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Schools: District cuts 45 positions to meet budget

By Sarah L. Smith
Coastal Observer

A $68.3 million operating budget for the Georgetown County School District that drew criticism will it was being drafted didn’t draw any comments at a public hearing this week. The school board passed the budget unanimously, also without comment.

To balance the budget, the district cut 45.5 positions. Although most found new jobs within the district, one teacher and 11 other employees are out of work. The district has about 1,400 employees.

Eight teaching positions were eliminated. The rest were support staff.

Cuts in state funding, including teacher salary supplements, employee benefits, funds for transportation and per-pupil allocations, created a $3.7 million shortfall.

In addition to a loss of revenue, the district has to fund increases in water and sewer costs, health insurance, supplements for national board certified teachers and related fringe benefits and two teachers in the teacher pool.

The increases totaled $501,736.

After reducing contract services, eliminating teacher tuition reimbursement and closing the teacher center, the district eliminated positions of teachers and staff who retired or did not sign their contracts for the next school year.

“You’ve probably cut that as much as you can cut,” Superintendent Randy Dozier said. “That’s why we’re at a point where when you have to make significant cuts, we’re talking about salaries.”

Marthena Grate Morant, the district’s human resources director, described it as “playing chess” with positions and employees.

At $59.8 million, payroll takes up the largest amount of the $68.3 million budget. Another $3.2 million, or 5 percent, pays for instructional supplies, and $5.3 million, about 8 percent, goes toward utilities, services and other school needs.

Neither instructional nor support service costs increased in the budget, which takes effect July 1.

The district began developing the budget in August, Lisa Johnson, associate superintendent for finance, said.

“As we worked throughout the year, we talked to the superintendent’s cabinet, the student cabinet and support staff cabinet,” Johnson said. “We sent an e-mail to employees and got good responses and tried to implement their suggestions where we could.”

Now that the 2011 budget is approved, district staff are looking at 2012, when $5 million in federal stimulus funds run out.

In 2010, about $1.34 million in stimulus funds, passed through to the district from the state, paid for salaries, supplies and tuition reimbursement. The new budget includes $3.6 million in stimulus funds for salaries.

“That money saved a lot of salaries and jobs,” Dozier said. “I’m not sure what we would have done,” without it. “I’m sure we would have had to increase class size.”

Without the stimulus funds, and with the loss of other one-time funds, Johnson said the district will have to find a way to make up a $6.6 million shortfall in operating revenue. At this point, she doesn’t know where that money will come from.

The district tried to get approval from the legislature this year to use leftover bond funds to pay for operations. Approved by the local legislative delegation, the measure was vetoed by the governor, whose veto was sustained on a 3-1 vote.

The measure drew criticism from the county Republican Party, which also complained that the district doesn’t provide enough information about its finances.

Johnson said residents who want a line-item budget can call the district’s finance office at 436-7070.

The operating budget is only one part of the district’s annual spending package.

The district has a debt service budget estimated at $16 million. Unlike the operating budget, which is funded by a mix of taxes on non-residential properties and state sales taxes, the debt service fund is financed entirely by local property taxes.

Johnson said the district has $12 million in existing general obligation bonds and about $2 million in other bonds.

The board approved a $2.3 million bond for equipment this week, which includes $1.3 million for technology updates for schools.

However, the board still has to approve the technology.

“Until the bonds are actually sold and the interest rate and payment schedule is worked out, it is just an estimate,” Johnson said.

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