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Education: Extended pre-K still on hold in budget

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Of the $1.2 million in budget requests made to the Georgetown County School Board a handful have already found their way into the district’s $76.8 million operating budget for the coming year.

There will be driver’s ed teachers at Georgetown and Andrews high schools. A part-time clerk in the office of accountability and assessment. And possibly a writing teacher at Waccamaw Middle.

But requests for full-day pre-K classes at three schools, including Waccamaw Elementary, are still on hold and unlikely to be resolved before the school board holds a public hearing and gives final approval to the budget on June 18.

Superintendent Randy Dozier said he still wants to expand full-day pre-K, which is in place at four district elementary schools. But each of those new classes will cost $97,000 for a teacher and an assistant. If the district uses its funds for those classes, it may have to cover the cost for the full-day pre-K at the other four schools, which are now paid for with federal funds because of the high number of low-income students at those schools.

“If it was just a teacher and an assistant we could do it,” Dozier said. “It appears we’re going to end up absorbing all that cost.”

The federal funds, known as Title I funds for the section of the federal law that makes them available, must be used to supplement local programs. By adding the same programs in schools that don’t qualify the district supplants rather than supplements.

Patti Hammel, who is in charge of federal programs for the district, told the school board that last month. Dozier said he thought the district could add one full-day pre-K class outside a Title I school if it picked up the cost of one class within a Title I school. He’s still checking on that. “I’d like to do more,” he said.

The driving instructors and other requests from the schools were added because the district didn’t cut back positions at schools that have declining enrollment. Andrews High was down five students this year. Georgetown High lost 26 students.

“Every school is over-funded for staff,” Dozier said.

The district operating budget will increase $2.2 million this year because of increased per-pupil spending by the state and because the district has more students in categories that qualify for more than the state’s per-pupil average.

Although the district has lost 425 students over five years, it actually saw a slight increase in overall enrollment this year because of the opening of the Coastal Montessori Charter School.

The charter school has students in grade one through six, and Waccamaw Elementary and Waccamaw Intermediate both had drops in enrollment. But the charter school, which is sponsored by the district, also attracted new faces among its 146 students. “That helped stabilize the numbers,” Dozier said.

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