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District to cut jobs in new budget

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By Jesef Williams

A slumping economy and changes in state law have affected how money will be allocated within the local school district.

The Lancaster County school board took its first look at the proposed 2008-09 budget Tuesday night.

District finance director Tony Walker told the board that cuts will have to be made to balance the budget, which lists revenue at just over $77 million. Expenditures in the proposed budget exceed revenue by more than $1.3 million.

District Superintendent Dr. Gene Moore attributes the financial shortcomings to the recently enacted state legislation – S.C. ACT 388 – that replaced residential property taxes with a penny sales tax to fund school districts.

The district will see a $1.7 million deficit in local revenue because of that change, Walker said.

The district has proposed a 5-mill tax increase in the budget that will add $628,130 in revenue. That money will come from taxes on business real property, manufacturing, transportation and utilities, vehicle and other property, such as boats. It won't include residential property.

"It's bad news and it's not going to get any better,"

Moore said. "They (state lawmakers) got to do something about that."

Unlike the previous

budget, teachers will be the only district employees who will get raises – a state-mandated 3.85 percent increase from last year. All other employees, including principals and administrative assistants, will not see a pay increase this year.

Walker said it would cost more than $67,000 to give the district's administrators raises.

"I would love to give the principals an increase, but we're not in a position to do that," school board chairwoman Charlene McGriff said. "We can't maneuver very much."

The largest budgeted cut is in the money that is allocated directly to the schools from the district. That total will decrease to $1,056,137, a 12.57 percent drop from the previous budget.

However, employee benefits, such as retirement and insurance, are slated to increase to more than $16.7 million, a 7.05 percent jump from last year.

Balancing the budget will require personnel cuts, Walker said Thursday.

Since 88 percent of the school district's expenses are personnel and benefits, he's looking at cutting staff, mostly through attrition and not filling vacant spots. He said staff may also be cut from schools with declining enrollments.

"We've already cut everywhere else," Walker said.

Walker expects to have the budget balanced by June.

The board will vote on whether to adopt the budget at its June 17 meeting.

Contact reporter Jesef Williams at jwilliams@thelancasternews.com or (803) 283-1152