School board OKs first reading of new budget

COUNTY — The School District of Pickens County’s board of trustees voted unanimously to accept the first reading of its 2011-2012 budget Monday night, marking the first official step toward the cutting of dozens of SDPC jobs.
Balancing the budget, which comes in at $95,302,725, was achieved with cuts in the form of positions at central services and other district divisions; assistant principals, guidance counselors, media specialists, reading interventionists, and literacy specialists to meet SDPC staffing requirements.
School supply allocations as well as band/strings supply allocations were cut by 25 percent.
Some expenses were cut from Simpson Academy, and funding was also cut for non-revenue sports at both Middle and High School levels. Teachers will lose their $275 supply cards for the 2011-12 school year.
What is included in the FY 2011-2012 General Fund budget? Maintaining current pupil to teacher ratios; maintaining school resource officers; funding for the new Chastain Road Elementary School; $250,000 contingency for operation of the new facilities; $250,000 general contingency fund; teaching certificate upgrades; state health insurance increases on the employer side and increases in utilities and property insurance.
“While this budget shows excess revenue over expenditures, it would be premature to assume usage of those funds until more information can be obtained based on the Senate deliberations,” cautioned Missy Campbell, the district’s Director of Finance.
This passing of the first reading, she said, is like a placeholder until there is more information. There are several bills still being considered in the State House and Senate that might affect funding for Pickens County schools.
Of course, everyone is hoping for good news in the form of extra funds from the statehouse, Campbell said.
Following Campbell’s presentation of the budget’s first reading, board chair Alex Saitta expressed several concerns that he does not find reflected in the budget — especially when it comes to funds necessary to cover upkeep and maintenance of the schools and anticipated inflation.
With all the new square footage that has been added within the district, there are concerns about whether or not they can be properly maintained with the figures budgeted in this line item, Saitta said.
“My fear is we’re not doing enough building maintenance,” he said. “30 classrooms per custodian in eight hours — that’s only 15 minutes to clean each room. Inflation is on the rise and there are no inflation adjustments in the budget.”
Director of Operations and Technology Tim Newman addressed Saitta’s concerns, making it clear that student achievement has to take precedence over classroom and building cleanliness and upkeep.
“Understand that in better times I did propose a budget that dealt with having more custodians, that dealt with having more HVAC personnel, electricians, and plumbers,” Newman said. “It is not my preference not to have those people, but in light of the budget issues, I think we were faced with the issue of who loses jobs here.
“We as a division are willing to try anything to preserve classroom jobs. If our focus is student achievement, we are probably willing to take the risk.”
Saitta also expressed his opposition to the cutting of $275 teacher supply cards.
“My concern is that inflation is eating everybody up,” Saitta said. “I am reticent and will probably not support the eliminating the $275 teacher cards. A lot of them pay money out of their own pockets, which is already too much on top of no pay raise for two years.”
The second reading of the budget will take place May 16. Until then, board members and district personnel are hoping for the best possible outcome from the Statehouse.
“I’d like to see some reading interventionists reinstated, and the teacher supply cards,” board trustee Jimmy Gillespie said. “It’s not a given that is going to happen.”