SDPC tables budget talk

COUNTY — The School District of Pickens County’s board of trustees convened before an estimated audience of 400-500 principals, assistant principals, guidance counselors and teachers at Monday night’s meeting to discuss the district’s fiscal year 2011-2012 budget.

After much discussion and debate, superintendent Henry Hunt’s recommendation regarding position eliminations to balance the general fund budget was tabled until a specially scheduled meeting on April 4 at Liberty Middle School.

Pickens County schools face a budget deficit of about $5 million because of the loss of stimulus dollars, and Hunt’s recommendation included cutting approximately 100 more positions in an attempt to balance the loss. Guidance counselors, assistant principals and teachers are being considered for elimination, in addition to the closing of Simpson Academy for Alternative Education and removal of school resource officers from middle schools.

28 people signed up to speak during the public forum, and the general consensus among them and vocal audience members was that guidance counselors and assistant principals should not be cut, even though they are not classroom positions.

Bill Houston, a former assistant principal and principal at Easley High said recent comments and ideas from board members have been disappointing, even embarrassing and appalling.

“People on the school board should be there to make a difference in the lives of Pickens County children,” Houston said. “In my opinion, if you are there for any other reason, special interest, personal agenda or political aspirations then maybe you need to resign.

“Listen to our administrators. They are the ones with the professionalism and in-depth knowledge of what is needed. Our schools are not businesses, our students are not commodities, and this is not Wall Street.”

Board Chair Alex Saitta said that he does not want to make cuts either.

“With the crowd and high emotions, it is easy to tell them what they want to hear. If the numbers say otherwise, I just can’t do that,” said Saitta. “The fact is the deficit is $5 million, and the law says we have to cut that much to balance it. A significant number of positions will have to be eliminated. Many more than they want.”

Several board members discussed tabling the matter so that they would have more time to read over the recommendations and consider every option.

Newcomer Ben Trotter said he does not want to see Simpson Academy closed, but he does not agree with sacrificing teaching positions for non-classroom positions.

“I’m having a little trouble with the vice principals,” said Trotter. “I would hate to walk into school one day and have plenty of administration up front and no teachers in the back.”

Former chair Jim Shelton questioned the base student cost being used to develop the budget.
“If the state has allotted a base student cost of $1,788, then why are we not using $1,788 to develop the budget?” he asked.

With no consensus reached Monday night, the board scheduled another meeting that will be held on April 4 at Liberty Middle School.