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New round of budget cuts not expected to reach classrooms

By Sarah L. Smith
Coastal Observer

The state’s $85 million cut in spending on K-12 education will trim $200,000 from Georgetown County School District’s $73 million budget and keep it in the red.

Lisa Johnson, the district’s assistant superintendant of finance and operations, said she doesn’t know what line items the state will cut or where the district will find money to make up the loss. The $200,000 adds to the school district’s $439,000 deficit this year, Superintendant Randy Dozier said.

Johnson expects the district will pull money out of its approximately $10 million reserve fund to cover the deficit.

“That’s the only place we have to go right now, other than keeping an eye on everything and saving money where we can, but still keep the classrooms equipped and supplied,” she said.

While Johnson and Dozier expected another cut in state funds, they said they couldn’t plan for it.

“There is no other money to plan for other than reserve,” she said. “I’m not sure what other areas we can cut.”

The district’s $73 million budget is already $2.3 million less than last year. Federal stimulus money gave the district $1.3 million to help make up the $1.5 million deficit left from state cuts.

To save money, the district furloughed teachers one day and other employees two days in July. It increased property taxes on second homes and commercial property by 4.2 mills, or about $25 for every $100,000 of assessed value.

The district also saved money on energy expenses, slashed attendance bonuses for teachers, reduced contract and rental services and closed its warehouse.

“People will probably wonder why we keep adding positions,” Dozier said. “They are temporary for two years.”

Those positions, like extra English and math teachers at schools, are paid for with federal stimulus money. The stimulus also kept some teachers employed.

Dozier said his goal is to keep this cut from hurting instruction and classroom size.

Cuts can affect program expansions, like International Baccalaureate at Waccamaw Elementary or single-gender education at the Waccamaw Middle, Dozier said. They can also hurt standardized testing scores if schools don’t have enough money to hire SAT teachers or provide challenging courses.

When SAT scores dropped this year, Dozier blamed the 2008 cuts.

He expects another budget cut will come early in 2010, but he remains optimistic.

“The economy is improving so maybe this will be the only cut,” he said.

If the state legislature approves more cuts when it reconvenes in January, Dozier knows district officials will handle it like they have in the past year.

“We’ve kind of gotten this down to an art,” he said.

Celeste Pringle, assistant superintendant of curriculum for the district, will also talk about the budget at the Georgetown County League of Women Voter’s meeting Monday at 7 p.m. in the Waccamaw Library.

The school board will discuss the budget at its Tuesday meeting at 5:30 p.m. in the Beck Administration Building.

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