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Schools keep watch for stimulus funds

By Sarah L. Smith
Coastal Observer

Despite cutting 22 jobs, furloughing employees and increasing taxes on non-owner occupied property, Georgetown County School District is still trying to balance its 2009-10 budget.

First, Superintendant Randy Dozier said the district has to balance its current budget using some its $10.5 million reserve. With a deficit of $1.5 million, about $9 million remained.

The district will then work throughout the next school year to minimize or eliminate the 2009-10 deficit of $1.3 million, he said.

“The budget is a work in progress, and it will continue to be like that over the next year. We just hope we can get through these tough economic times,” Dozier said.

This week, Dozier told school board members he’d just learned that the deficit could fall to $700,000 when the state gives $420,000 to the district to help schools rated “below average” on their state report card.

“It’s a bad way to build a budget, with money you don’t have,” Dozier said, referring to the $420,000.

Another $250,000 of state money for curriculum specialists could also reduce the deficit, Dozier said. But again, he doesn’t know what sort of strings are attached to the funds.

“It’s there, but I’m not sure if it’s tied to the stimulus money that hasn’t been approved,” he said.

The stimulus money Dozier refers to was vetoed Tuesday by Gov. Mark Sanford. If the legislature overrides his veto, the money would spread $350 million among South Carolina school districts to help balance budgets and keep about 500 teaching jobs in the state, according to the South Carolina Department of Education.

If Sanford’s veto is sustained, Casey Edwards, a Chapin High School student, could re-file her lawsuit that seeks to get the federal money for schools released.

While the district waits, School Board Chairman Jim Dumm is confident the legislature will override Sanford’s veto and the issue will end up in the courts.

“Then we’ll just have to see how it plays out,” said Dumm.

Looking ahead, Lisa Johnson, the district’s assistant superintendant for finance and operations, said that if the district gets any additional stimulus money, the board will re-examine the budget.

If that happens, Marthena Grate Morant, the district’s executive director of human resources, said and more money comes in, job cuts could be revisited and positions could also open. If any of the nine teachers and 13 non-teachers who were cut last Friday qualify, they can apply, she said. Both Morant and Dozier also expect to see more resignations if employees move.

When employee contracts came out Friday, teachers not only learned of district cuts, but they also learned they’d get two days of furlough.

Employees who work all year would get four.

Other teacher-related cuts in the 2009-10 budget include eliminating tuition reimbursement, and reducing signing and good attendance bonuses.

According to the drafted budget, job cuts and furloughs will save the district approximately $4 million. A tax increase of $25.20 per $100,000 of the assessed property value of commercial property and second homes will bring in $1.7 million.

While cuts were made to the 2009-10 budget, the district also made required increases for employee insurance, workers’ compensation, the energy budget, National Board Certified teacher supplements and salary increases for employees who increased their years of experience.

The district will also use $320,625 to keep five teachers available to fill positions if other teachers leave unexpectedly.

Another $412,429 will fund new administrative assistant positions at Georgetown Middle and High schools, Sampit Elementary, Pleasant Hill Elementary and the Howard Adult Center.

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