School district budget given 1st approval

By Nicole Daughhetee

Courier Staff

COUNTY — In a 4-1 vote, with trustee Alex Saitta opposing, School District of Pickens County board trustees voted Monday night to approve the first reading of the district’s FY 2013-14 general fund budget in the amount of $100,685,680.

SDPC finance director Clark Webb said the budget is currently balanced.

“We continue to work on this budget and are still in the process of implementing staffing changes in the CSI system and going through contracts for (full-time employees),” said Webb. “There are still funding unknowns at this time as well. Bills in Columbia might impact the budget process.”

Created with a base student cost (BSC) of $2,101 and a 21.5 to 1 staffing-student ratio, currently included in the budget are a 6 percent global health increase, a 10 percent increase in workers compensation insurance, mandated teacher step increases and allocations for 0.5 assistant principal positions at Clemson Elementary and Pickens Middle School.

Not included in the budget are allocations for SROs (student resource officers) at the elementary schools, cost-of-living increases, allotment for classroom supplies and expenditures, step increases for bus drivers, or technology upgrades and capital improvements.

Prior to the vote, board chair Judy Edwards made a motion to the budget that would increase staffing ratio to 22.5 to 1.

“This would happen through attrition and not layoffs,” said Edwards. “The administration should be allowed to use their discretion as to when they think this might be detrimental to a classroom, but (I move) that we begin the process of making this a 22.5 instead of a 21.5.”

Edwards’ motion failed 2-2-1, with Edwards and Ben Trotter voting for the 22.5 to 1 teacher student ratio increase; Saitta and Jimmy Gillespie against and Jim Shelton abstaining from the vote.

Saitta said the motion was just another example of the upside-down priorities of the leadership.

“Twenty five percent of our students don’t read at grade level,” Saitta said. “This year we are spending an extra $1 million on electricity, yet there aren’t any significant initiatives on improving reading, which should be the No. 1 priority. The Ignite classes are being eliminated to help fund other things.

“We have money. We have new money, but the institution itself sucks up the new money. It doesn’t go to the children.”

In addition, Saitta said that raising class sizes is yet another example of how money is taken from the classroom and spent on the system, and this is why public education is losing public support.

“We’re focused on supporting the system and we’re willing to take money away from the classroom by raising the student-teacher ratio,” said Saitta. “This should be the last thing you should raise. Not the first thing.”

Edwards responded, saying that the Ignite classes will be continued if the money is available, but right now the district doesn’t have the money.

“I think (Superintendent Kelly) Pew is doing all that she can to create new classes, new things for our kids and trying to work to raise our scores and our reading levels,” she said. “I think things are being done.”