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School district's $2M in cuts could cost 50 jobs

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Georgetown County Schools will be able to cut $2 million from its budget next year to help offset the loss of federal stimulus funds and avoid closing schools, raising class sizes and forcing staff to take furloughs, under a proposal presented to the school board this week.

Although the measures avoid draconian cuts, they could still cost about 50 jobs around the district, officials said.

“There will be some people who lose jobs,” Superintendent Randy Dozier said. “We don’t have enough vacancies to go around.”

The district faces some attrition through retirement. Beyond that, more experienced teachers who are now paid with the stimulus money will displace those with less experience.

Certifications will also be a factor. “You can’t replace a physics teacher with an English teacher,” Dozier said.

The district will lose $6.1 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that pays for 122 positions, including 66 teachers. Seven teachers will be cut due to shrinking enrollment, and 11 positions in the district office will be cut. By using other funds, including a state allotment for classroom supplies, the district will be able to fund all but 45 to 55 of the remaining positions.

With a slight increase in revenue from the state, the district’s budget gap is about $2 million, according to Lisa Johnson, the district finance director.

A one-time shift in teacher funding will save $792,000. The district gets $204,000 from the state for supplies that will fund three teaching positions, and the cut in district office staff will save $351,000.

The balance will be covered by a range of cuts. The largest portion, $308,000, comes from setting a limit on spending for substitute teachers. That’s something the district should do regardless of the broader financial picture, Dozier said.

The district now spends close to $750,000 a year on substitutes. Next year, Dozier proposes to cap that at $500,000.

He told the school board that some small elementary schools spend more on substitutes than high schools. The average teacher is out 12 days a year, Dozier said. He doesn’t propose teachers come to work sick, but he said the goal is to make people more aware of the cost.

Cutting driver education at the four high schools will save $127,000. There are 149 students enrolled in the classes. It costs $853 each to provide the class, since the district has to buy the cars. Private classes cost a couple of hundred dollars.

“I think you could contract it out for half of what we’re paying,” Dozier said.

The district can save $79,600 by cutting B-team sports at the four middle schools. Those football and basketball programs have already been scaled back. Under the rules of the S.C. High School League, middle school students can try out for junior varsity teams, Johnson said.

“This won’t be popular,” Dozier said.

“Oh, no,” said Board Member Arthur Lance.

The summer program for gifted and talented students will also be cut, saving $62,500. The district has already cut summer school programs, with only online programs available to high school students, and then only for those who need the class to graduate, said Celeste Pringle, an assistant superintendent.

Cutting back on photocopies and contract services such as equipment repairs will save about $37,000 each.

“If we had to decide tonight, is this what you’d be recommending?” Board Chairman Jim Dumm asked.

“Yes,” Dozier said. “Your message to me was to have the least impact on instruction.”

The cuts were among those compiled by district staff and principals and circulated around the district for comment.

Using the supply budget to pay teachers was actually suggested by teachers, Dozier said.

It was an alternative to cutting the supplement paid to teachers with National Board certification. The state allocates an extra $7,500 a year for those teachers and the district adds $3,000.

“I’ve gotten a lot of calls,” said Board Member Pat DeLeone, who was a board certified teacher herself.

There are about 140 board certified teachers in the district.

The district could save up to $642,000 with furloughs of two days for teachers and support staff, and four days for administrators. The district ordered furloughs last year. “It wasn’t great for morale,” Dozier said.

Closing Plantersville Elementary and moving its 97 students to Browns Ferry would save $616,000. Combining Carvers Bay middle and high schools would save $1 million.

Lance said he once proposed consolidating three rural elementary schools at a site near Carvers Bay, but that was opposed by the U.S. Justice Department because it would violate a federal court’s desegregation order that the district operates under.

However, he said small schools aren’t necessarily bad schools, and those in Georgetown County do well.

Board Member Teresa Bennani said she would like to use the savings from consolidating rural schools to improve preschool programs. “I think you could make a difference,” she said.

“I’m not passionate about keeping the schools open,” Lance said. “I just want folks to realize there are reasons for keeping them open.”

Overall, board members seemed comfortable with the proposed cuts. “I feel much better than when I walked into this room,” Bennani said.

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