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Schools: 17 job cuts will save district $1.5 million

By Sarah L. Smith
Coastal Observer

The Georgetown County School District plans to lay off 17 employees to offset cuts in state funding and balance its $68 million operating budget for 2011.

The positions to be cut haven’t been identified, Superintendent Randy Dozier said. He met with the school board in closed session this week to discuss the cuts.

Dozier said 16 will be support staff. One will be a teacher. Those will account for $1.5 million in savings.

Some of the 17 employees could be rehired to fill other vacancies in the district, he said.

The district will cut another $185,000 by reducing contract services, eliminating tuition reimbursement for staff and eliminating the district teacher center.

The district has projected a $3.4 million drop in state funds in the fiscal year that begins July 1. The state legislature is considering more cuts that could affect the 2011 budget.

“The governor proposed taking stimulus money and putting it in reserve,” Dozier told school board members this week. “That would be pretty devastating to us.”

The district could layoff teachers if further cuts are needed, said Lisa Johnson, assistant superintendent for finance. That would increase the size of some classes.

It could also cut the salary supplement for National Board Certified Teachers or cut funds for classroom supplies, she said.

This year, the district furloughed teachers for one day and administrators for two days. That saved around $350,000.

The district could also offset any additional cuts with money from its reserve fund, Johnson said.

In addition the threat of losing federal stimulus money next year, Dozier said the state Senate passed a bill last week that would require school districts to give teachers pay increases based on their years of service. Districts that don’t increase teacher salaries would have to furlough all their administrators for two days.

The bill still has to pass the House, but if it becomes law, Dozier said the district will have to furlough administrators.

The cost of the pay increases is $900,000. They aren’t included in the 2011 budget.

“Overall, we’re better off than we were last year,” Dozier said.

The district wasn’t counting on being able to use funds left over from bonds issued for capital projects. A bill that passed the legislature would have allowed the county to use that money in 2011.

Gov. Mark Sanford vetoed the bill. It was overturned in the House last week, but sustained in the Senate this week. Sen. Ray Cleary, who voted for the bill, announced last week he would sustain the veto.

But he pointed out that he is concerned about education funding once the state loses $367 million in federal stimulus funds for schools.

“I am truly concerned with our county’s education. And as tight as our budgets have been this year, it appears next year will only be worse: one billion additional dollars will not be enough to plug the hole in next year’s education budget,” Cleary said.

Dozier said the use of bond funds was only a backup plan. “We’ll revisit it next year if we need to,” he said.

He agreed that balancing the 2012 budget may be a monumental task.

South Carolina will apply for the second round of the federal government’s Race to the Top money, but results are not guaranteed. Dozier expects more state cuts and the loss of $3.6 million from federal stimulus funds issued in 2009.

“That’s why we’ve saved all our cards for next year," he said.

The cost of school meals is also going up.

Students will pay $1 for breakfast, a 5-cent increase. Elementary students will pay $1.55 for lunch, and middle and high students will pay $1.65, a 10-cent increase.

Like the budget cuts and layoffs, price increases are another sign of what’s going on in the economy, said Jan Knox, the food service director. Although her department watches every penny, they have to pay more money for less food.

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