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Budgets in the balance: School district cuts 24 jobs, deficit shrinks

By Sarah L. Smith
Coastal Observer

The Georgetown County School District has laid off 24 employees in the past two weeks to help fill a $3.7 million shortfall in its $68.3 million operating budget for next year.

Although employees are losing their jobs, the district is trying to place them in other school or district office positions. All but 15 people have been placed, Superintendent Randy Dozier said. Those 15 either are over qualified or not qualified for the open positions.

He hopes the others will be able to fill other positions that become vacant as employee contracts for next year are renewed.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to able place everybody,” Dozier said.

He mentioned two career specialists whose jobs were cut who are applying for teaching certification so they can fill two of the 25 teaching positions that are open, according to Marthena Grate Morant, the district’s human resources executive director. Jobs teaching math and science are open at Waccamaw and Georgetown high schools. Art teachers and media specialist positions are open at other schools.

Positions are also open in food service and custodial work, Dozier said.

But more positions could be eliminated, according to Lisa Johnson, associate superintendent for finance and operations. She expects another $25,000 to $30,000 will be added to the cost of $300,000 increase in group health insurance. She said Dozier told her that may mean more jobs will be eliminated if the district can not balance the budget with those additions.

Morant isn’t sure about cuts at this point.

“It doesn’t seem like there will be any additional cuts, but we’ll see what the board says when it meets on June 1,” she said.

The board will approve the district’s final 2010 budget by June 30, but if more state or federal budget cuts occur, the budget could change again.

Since the 2007 budget year, the district’s operating has fallen from $77.7 million to $68.3 million, a drop of 12 percent. In 2009, the district used $9 million from its reserve fund to balance its $72 million operating budget after cuts.

The reserve will be down to about $6 million by the end of the current fiscal year on June 30, Johnson estimated.

In addition to the general fund budget, school board members received an update on the debt service budget and the capital projects plan at this week’s work session.

Dozier said the district plans to keep the debt service tax rate at 27 mills through the 2012 fiscal year. (A mill equals $1 of tax for every $1,000 of assessed value.) The district projects that the rate may fluctuate between 27 and 22.4 mills until 2018. It will not go higher than 27 mills, Dozier said.

It goes to pay the outstanding debt, listed in the 2008-09 audit as $105.6 million. Operating millage, as of the 2008-09 audit, is listed and capped at 98.9 mills.

In an overview of the updated capital projects plan, Lisa Ackerman, the district director of procurement and special projects, said it was updated to include requests from principals. However, principals’ requests for new tennis courts at Waccamaw High School and a new gym and band room at Waccamaw Intermediate were ignored in this year’s update.

The plan includes a new roof at Waccamaw Elementary School and the start of construction on a new media center, additional classrooms and parking space at Waccamaw High School.

Money from bonds listed in the capital projects budget will pay for the improvements.

The Approximately 2,200 pages of the district’s complete budget are now available. Digital copies are available at the district office, located at 2018 Church St. in Georgetown.

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