SDPC budget workshop gets heated

COUNTY — A benign budget workshop with SDPC board trustees and district administration became heated last week when former board chairman Jim Shelton inquired how the board’s recent vote to end the TAP program impacted teacher contracts.
School district human resources director Stephanie Lackey said that the vote to do away with the TAP program eliminated 3.5 teaching positions and sent four teachers home.
Board member Judy Edwards maintained that the TAP vote had no bearing on the current budget workshop.
“It doesn’t matter. It’s over,” she said.
Shelton pushed the issue, asking incoming superintendent Kelly Pew why the state had given Pickens County $295,000 in funding for the third year of the TAP program.
“Why did they give us that money?” asked Pew. “Because they thought TAP was successful in our county.”
“The action to do away with TAP, a fully funded program with no effect on the general fund budget at all, laid off four teachers,” said Shelton. “The decision to end TAP was political, not practical. What this board has done is put politics into the classroom and removed teachers and dollars.”
Because funding for TAP was available through FY 2013, Shelton said bringing it up was pertinent to the budget workshop.
“This board chose to lay off teachers. The board had the authority and resources to retain those teachers. They chose not to,” said Shelton. “And they didn’t want the public to know it.”
“The board ended the TAP program, so 13.5 Master Teacher (teacher coaches) positions were eliminated. So far all but two have found jobs in the system,” said SDPC board chairman Alex Saitta. “Last year at this time the board eliminated 85 positions, and most all found jobs elsewhere in the system over the next few months.”
Saitta also said that there is no reason to rehash the TAP vote, because it was going to cost the district $275,000 next year, $800,000 the year after, $1.3 million the year after that and $2.2 million four years from now. 
“Shelton wants to keep bringing up how much Mick Zais loves the program,” said Saitta. “Wonderful. Let Zais pay for it.”
According to Shelton, Zais is paying for it, because in two years TAP will be eliminated and replaced with a similar program of Zais’ choosing.
“The funding for TAP is supposed to be a gradual stepdown over time, but we’re into year three and the state department is almost completely funding it,” said Shelton. “There is no impact to the General Fund Budget, and revenues are rising.”
Total revenues for the FY 2013 budget, which is still in the preliminary stages, total $97,495,972.
Clark Webb, school district director of financial services, said that local revenues have remained the same as the previous fiscal year at $28,423,000. Employee benefits from the state are coming in at approximately $1.2 million, and the base student cost for FY 2013 is expected to be $2,012.00 up from $1,880.00 last year.
Some of the district’s estimated expenses include a 1.7 percent retirement increase totaling approximately $450,000 and an employee health increase totaling $366,000. In addition, General Fund items increased with the addition of $90,764 for Reading Recovery and another 5.5 FTEs at $340,516.
Although Webb and district superintendent Dr. Henry Hunt advised SDPC board members that the FY 2013 budget was still in the infancy stages and subject to change depending on decisions made by the SC Hose and Senate, Webb said the budget appears to be fairly well-balanced.
In addition, there is a contingency fund in the neighborhood of $597,000 that rolled over from last year.
“A combination of a firming economy and conservative fiscal management has landed the school district on its feet,” Saitta said. “There is no tax increase or fees increase in the budget. Also the three-year streak of position eliminations due to budget deficits has ended. Last year at this time the board/ district was eliminating 85 positions. Quite an improvement.”
“Whether it’s two or 22, they are still removing teachers from classrooms,” said Shelton. “Four teachers were laid off because the board voted to eliminate TAP and the funding for the program.”