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Schools: Delegation counts votes on override of bond veto

By Sarah L. Smith
Coastal Observer

The Georgetown County School District should know by the end of the week if it can use borrowed money for operating expenses next year.

“We need to increase funding for education. There is no doubt about it,” state Sen. Ray Cleary said.

But he doesn’t know if he will vote to override Gov. Mark Sanford’s veto of a bill that would allow the district to use proceeds from general obligation bonds to cover expenses in the coming year. And he is under pressure from fellow Republicans to sustain the veto.

State Reps. Vida Miller and Carl Anderson, sponsors of the bill, overrode the veto in the House on Wednesday.

Since it takes a two-thirds majority to override, Cleary’s vote is key to the outcome in the state Senate, where he and Sen. Yancey McGill are the only members of the local delegation.

“When it was presented, we thought it was in a vote from the school board, but we found out only four of the people knew about it, and no one from the school board has called me. Tell me why it’s so important to take bonded money?” Cleary said.

School Board Chairman Jim Dumm called Cleary this week to discuss the bill and encourage him to override the veto.

“He told me he was still in a quandary,” Dumm said. “He hadn’t made up his mind yet. I just encouraged him, and told him the school district would appreciate it. Although we’re not positive we’d utilize the measure, but it would be nice to have it in our arsenal if we needed to. There are just so many unknowns.”

Cleary initially supported the bill, along with the three other members of the delegation, but he later had doubts.

“He looked at the bill just like we did,” Anderson said. “I think he said if the school board agrees with it, it would be all right with him.”

The school board unanimously adopted a resolution this month supporting the bill.

The Georgetown County Republican Party chairman, Tom Swatzel, wrote Cleary urging him to sustain the veto.

He called on the school district to “live within its means” and “impose fiscal discipline” and asked Cleary to “stand with the county GOP and Gov. Sanford” by voting to uphold his veto.

“The GOP strongly opposes this legislation because it enables the county Board of Education to fund operational deficit spending with proceeds from a general obligation bond,” Swatzel wrote.

But his letter was questioned by a member of the county party’s executive committee.

“The statement in your letter that ‘the county GOP strongly opposes this legislation’ is simply untrue,” Charles Smith, a Georgetown attorney, wrote Swatzel. “Neither the Georgetown County Republican Party convention nor the Georgetown County Republican Party executive committee have expressed any opinion on this legislation.”

He said the issue is not the bill, but the party.

“Running for public office and serving in public office are difficult enough without having to worry about being publicly attacked by officers of your own political party,” Smith said.

Swatzel said the letter was written at the request of party officers.

Miller and Anderson, who are Democrats, said they are disappointed that a bill designed to help keep teachers employed has become so political.

“Making this a contentious issue about our schools is shameful, a disgrace to our teachers, students and school administrators,” Miller said.

The district currently faces a $3 million deficit, and has seen $6 million in state revenue cuts in two years. The board will approve the 2011 budget in June.

“My plan this year is to replace the furlough time that we lost and not increase class size. I’m trying to be as conservative as possible because I don’t know what next year will bring,” Superintendent Randy Dozier said.

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