The Pickens County School Board approved its 2011-12 budget year. The board started the process facing a $5.3 million loss in federal money, so the situation was bleak at the start. Given the painful array of options initially discussed, the success of the budget process might best be measured by listing what the board did not do in order balance the budget.
While Greenville County schools raised property tax rates 4.7 mills, our district did not raise tax rates. In contrast to last year, when 27 teaching positions were eliminated from Pickens County schools, this budget did not eliminate any teaching positions. Initially there were discussions to reduce pay 2.5 percent, 3 percent or as much as 7 percent. In the end pay levels were not reduced.
Budgeted expenditures for 2011-12 are not higher than anticipated revenues so borrowing will not be needed this year to sure up the general fund account. This past year the district had to borrow $4 million for six weeks in the fall in order to meet payroll. The notion the school district has a reserve of cash or savings is untrue.
Early in the process furloughs or a reduction in instruction days was discussed, but those options were rejected by the board. Maximizing classroom instruction was a top priority.
Charging new fees for sports programs and a new instructional fee was suggested, but those ideas were shot down too given the struggles families are facing with the economy.
The initial budget resolution called for elimination of Reading Interventionists or teachers who work directly with small groups of students on improving their reading, school police officers, and closing the Simpson school. In the end, none of those things occurred.
Each year the state gives the school district $300,000 for classroom supplies. The district has always then turned around and given each teacher $275 to buy supplies for their classroom. The initial resolution took the $300,000 and dumped it into the general fund to pay for anything from pencils to administrative salaries. In the final budget we redirected that money back to teachers, giving each of them their $275 supply card.
Targeting cuts in school administration, the district office and other non-classroom areas, coupled with additional funds from the state enabled the district to balance the budget. Thank you Senator Martin, and Representatives Hiott, Owens, Bikas and Skelton.
No doubt there were cuts in areas that will hurt, but cuts in activities where teachers directly educate students were kept to a minimum.
This fiscal prudence combined with an improving economy has greatly improved the fiscal condition of the school district. Hopefully, soon the district will be able to turn its sights on restoring some of the most important items that were eliminated or cut during the past four years.
Alex Saitta is the chairman of the Pickens County School Board.