Budget crunch in Barnwell 45 school district force teacher layoffs, other cost-cutting measures

Faced with a more than $1 million shortfall in its revenues, the Barnwell 45 school district has been forced to lay off some of its teachers.

The school board met March 31 at 5 p.m. during a special called meeting. The meeting lasted about 20 minutes and occurred in open session. About 45 people attended, mostly district employees.

The board unanimously voted in two separate motions to not renew the contracts of five induction or first-year teachers. Nine other teachers are being released as part of the district's reduction in force policy.

Another 19 retired full-time teachers and three retired part-time teachers are being laid off.

Although 36 people are feeling the results of Barnwell 45's budgetary crunch, it doesn't mean that many teaching slots are being eliminated for next school year, said Sapough.

Some of these positions will be refilled, but with teachers from a lower pay grade, he said.

The district is following state policies in regards to a reduction in force involving teachers, he said.

The district can't cut the teachers' pay, since their salaries are regulated by state government and they have to be paid according to their pay scale, Sapough said.

Faculty, staff and parents who attended the March 26 regular board meeting got an inkling of the district's dire straits as Shirley Kitchings, its financial officer, gave a report to the board.

About 100 people attended that meeting, most because of the recent controversy involving the availability of bus drivers for transporting district athletic teams.

However, at the end of that meeting, board member Chad Perry stood and told the crowd that the bigger issue is the budget.

"You got to hear about another big issue tonight - the budget," he said.

Perry urged the crowd to contact their state representatives about getting the state to allocate more money to public education, perhaps through federal stimulus money.

"I'm interested in seeing what you'll do when you leave the room," Perry told the crowd.

As it stands, the Barnwell 45 school district incurred a $1.18 million reduction in its projected revenues from cutbacks from the state for fiscal year 2009. The fiscal year ends June 30.

"That's really hurt us and creates a dilemma," said Kitchings. "In plain language, we have more bills than paychecks for them."

Of the district's general fund - the operating budget it uses to pay salaries and power bills - 86 percent pays salaries and employee benefits. Another 8 percent is spent on required items like utilities, according to district financial data.

The remaining 6 percent goes toward other costs, like supplies.

The fiscal year 2009 budget for the district is $17.35 million. Of that, 73 percent, or $12.57 million, comes from Columbia, according to district records.

The $1 million shortfall from fiscal year 2009 will be paid off from money in the $2 million fund balance account, which is a reserve fund, before the district goes into fiscal year 2010, Kitchings said.

Fiscal year 2010 doesn't look very promising either.

The district is projecting it will receive $16.2 million in revenues for the general fund, but it is anticipating $18.5 million in expenditures if it continued spending at its current level, which it will not, Kitchings said.

However, the district is already formulating cost-cutting measures to minimize this shortfall, she said.

This $2.3 million shortfall could increase to possibly more than $3 million if the district does not receive any federal stimulus money from Washington D.C., she said.

In anticipating next fiscal year's budget, Kitchings said she will create two models, one with and one without stimulus money.

To minimize the shortfall, the district is looking at other cost-cutting measures, Kitchings said.

Some of those measures include:

• reducing travel and staff devel

• reducing spending for supplies to only necessary items;

•reducing the number of school resource officers. (There are four now.)

• possibly freeze all salaries except those state-mandated;

• convert the payroll system to a 24-pay period system.

The district has some employees who are paid once a month and others paid twice a month. Some employees are still paid monthly, which is a holdover from an earlier system. Streamlining this into one system would reduce costs, Kitchings said.

Two other cost-saving measures are being considered: furloughing teachers and administrators by five days and increasing class size.

If teachers are furloughed, it would be for non-instructional days only, such as in-service or professional development days in which they receive added training. The district has never furloughed teachers before now, Kitchings said.

Another budget expenditure the district will be paying soon is the step raise for teachers.

Each year, teachers are given a step raise as mandated by the state. The amount is between 1 and 2 percent, depending on the teacher's years of experience, Kitchings said.
However, Barnwell 45 teachers get more than the mandated amount, she said.

"We pay 10 percent over the state minimum and can't forego it. I brought that out that the teachers are already getting 10 percent over minimum," Kitchings said. "If you live right next to a district that pays more, then the teachers will go there."

Despite the grim economic numbers, raising school millage rates was not considered an option.

"One thing that I brought up that we don't want to do is raise millage. The small businesses are struggling enough as is. They (the school board) did not want to do that," Kitchings said.