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Education: District budget includes pay raises, but no new programs

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Employees will get a 2 percent pay increase next year, but whether Georgetown County schools will receive funds for additional programs such as full-day pre-K won’t be decided for several weeks.

“You don’t see any new initiatives, you don’t see any K-4,” Superintendent Randy Dozier told the school board this week after handing out copies of the two-page draft of the district’s $76.9 million operating budget. He said he is still working on some proposals for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Elementary school principals asked the board this year to increase funding to all pre-kindergarten classes to expand from half- to full-day programs. Four of the nine elementary schools in the district have full-day programs, paid for with federal funds those schools receive because of a high number of students from low-income families. Dozier wants to add full-day pre-K at least one more school. Each class adds $90,000 to the budget for a teacher and an aide.

“My biggest concern is that we’re not going to be able to address pre-K like we wanted to,” School Board Chairman Jim Dumm said. The state doesn’t provide funds for pre-K and “I don’t see how we can influence that.”

The district has the same problem with paying for security, he said. The budget proposal includes $275,000 to pay for continued security at the district’s elementary school which was increased following the December shooting of 20 students at a school in Newtown, Conn. Dozier said he plans to recommend other safety initiatives before the budget gets final approval. The cost of safety programs, including school resource officers and nurses, is “bumping a million dollars,” Dozier said. “We’re not going to compromise on that.”

The salaries and benefits account for $67.9 million or 88 percent of the operating budget. For the coming year that includes a step increase or 2 percent. Employees are still a year behind in step increases after the district froze pay three years ago.

The district’s budget will grow by 3 percent due to increases in state funding. There is no increase in local property taxes, which account for just over half the district’s operating revenue.

Board Member Arthur Lance asked for a list of school-level funding requests to reconcile with the budget. “I want to let them know that they actually got considered,” he said.

“I don’t tell them no,” Dozier said, “but I’m a little slow with yes.”

Lance also wanted to know how adding an additional student to the student-teacher ratios would affect the budget.

Lisa Johnson, the district finance director, said more details will be coming. That includes the potential impact of the federal budget cuts through sequestration. She estimates that will reduce funds for disabled students by 5 percent and for low-income students by 8 percent. Also, the Affordable Healthcare Act could require the district to provide insurance coverage to additional employees.

The district reserve fund stood at $11.3 million at the end of the last fiscal year. Dozier said the district has not had to use that and he hopes to end the current fiscal year with a surplus. “We’re in pretty decent shape,” he told the board. “I’d love to do more, but have a fiscally-sound policy. Who knows when things will go south?”

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