District One budget woes an issue in House Seat 38 election

Published 1:29 pm Friday, June 18, 2010

As South Carolina legislators haggled over a proposed $400 million in cuts to the upcoming state budget in Columbia this week, Spartanburg County Schools District One officials braced for what they anticipate to be more cuts to an already threadbare budget.

The budget debate has been among central issues leading up to Tuesdays Republican primary run-off election for House District 38 between incumbent Joey Millwood and challenger Doug Brannon.

So far, the District One board has approved furloughs for certified and classified employees that will cut about $700,000 for the current budget. A 15-percent salary cut for all working retirees has also been approved, saving about $400,000.

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Brannon said officials from school districts one and two, both of which have residents within District 38, should be lauded for making the necessary budget cuts while protecting educational programs.

They have cut their budgets to the bone in areas that dont specifically affect the classroom, Brannon said. On the flip side, the legislature is obligated to fund education and law enforcement before it funds anything else. . . . It will be my goal to fund those two constitutional obligations and then make the cuts in other areas.

Weve been making adjustments at midstream and those midstream adjustments are becoming scary, District One Superintendent Ron Garner said. So far, weve been able to maintain, but if this continues, you are certainly facing the real aspect of making tough decisions that impact quality and we dont to do that no one does.

The District One board approved a $36.9 million budget for the 2010-11 fiscal year Monday night, but Garner is wary that the budget cuts that have plagued the district over the past couple of years are not over.

Were very concerned, Garner said. Its been tough and what concerns us the most is what lies ahead, based on some of the forecasts were getting.

Among Garners concern is the disparity between funds allocated to the District One by the state and the amount that actually makes it to the districts coffers.

For the past two years, the district administration has made cuts totaling more than $3 million, including $2.1 million last year, to meet shortfalls from the state, Garner said.

We need some help from our legislature. There has to be some stability put into the revenue streams from our state legislature, he said. Were hoping and praying for some help from the state level and for some stability to be brought back into our economy and tax code.

The District 1 budget is about $1 million lighter than last year. Fifteen positions have been cut, all due to attrition.

But most of the districts previous budget cuts have happened after the approval of the initial budgets due mainly to shortfalls from the state. Those cuts reflect a loss of some $2 billion state revenue since 2007.

Federal stimulus funds helped the district from making more drastic cuts last year. With the stimulus funds, the district was able to keep its per-student cost level at $2,034, compared to the $2,720 per student that it was previously, Garner said.

Without those stimulus funds, the base cost is down to $1,630 per student.

Those stimulus finds saved the day last year, but now theyre gone, so for the time being, here is where we are, Garner said.

Brannon said the legislature needs to find funds to help educators do their jobs, including diverting lottery funds previously earmarked for higher education to primary education.

I dont think we need to cut necessary services, but we need to provide a well-educated, trained work force and safe communities, Brannon said. Its a trickle-down theory. If we do those things, the other things will come.

Millwood, who did not return a call seeking comment for this story, has campaigned as a fiscal conservative against government growth and tax increases.

On Wednesday, Millwood voted to put some money back into technical education, but was among five legislators, including gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley, to vote against $4.7 million in statewide spending for public libraries.

This is a tough budget year, and its all about priorities, Millwood told the Spartanburg Herald-Journal. You weigh everything versus our core services.