Friday, April 1, 2011

Educator furloughs coming to Chester County

Denyse Middleton of Chester County delivers the news: School trustees have recommended furloughs of all district employees to cover a projected $2.5 million budget shortfall. A reduction in student enrollment means "the district will lose some of the $1,617 per student it receives annually from the state."

(See, this is what happens when children leave the public schools; those who support private school vouchers and tuition tax credits should take note: The costs of running a school continue, but the district has fewer dollars to cover those costs. It's simple arithmetic.)

This, after a proposal at an earlier board meeting to raise class sizes was ruled out.

One of the recommendations made by the district's finance director at the March 21 board meeting was a proposal to increase class sizes. The changes would mean an increase to 23 students per class for kindergarten-3rd grades and 30 students per class for 4th-12th grades. This was one measure board members took a definite stance against, James said, adding, “We, specifically, don't want class size to increase.”

That's admirable, and we all should commend Board Chair Maggie James and her board for their decision.

Now comes the furlough question.

“As a board, we discussed furloughs and using the fund balance to defray some of the cuts,” James said. “These furloughs are from the superintendent to maintenance.”

The board-recommended furloughs include five days for teachers and 10 days for administrators, James said. The board also discussed contract services to the district and coaches' supplements, she added.

Middleton's last note in the article suggests that the community has come together in a spirit of shared sacrifice. She writes,

James said it has been “the spirit of the community working together” that has impressed her during this time of difficult challenges to the new budget. “I want to commend everyone in this district who has come forward to help us find solutions because they don't want anyone to lose their positions,” James said. “That shows the strength of this community and what people are willing to do together.”

I'm curious about what that shared sacrifice looks like, particularly from Chester County's corporate citizens. Have they offered to accept a slightly higher corporate income tax burden, in order to do their part and help protect Chester County's children and their families? If not, I wonder what the shared sacrifice means. It's clear to me what it means for children, their families and the district's school employees. I hope Middleton will write more about that in future articles.

Aside from that, seeing that James and other board members are inviting suggestions, I have a suggestion and a question: I suggest that South Carolina lawmakers determine precisely what the state per-pupil expenditure would have to be (a) to ensure a uniformly low class size across the districts, (b) to restore any personnel positions that have been cut in the past three years, and (c) to restore funding for classroom supplies and salary steps, then appropriate exactly that amount of funding, so as to hold harmless Chester County and every other school district.

That's my suggestion, and here's my question: How many corporations registered to conduct business in South Carolina paid no corporate income tax to this state last year? Surely the Department of Revenue can tell us that, and the answer to this question can offer a powerful guide to every legislative delegation in the state when looking for ways to fund the per-pupil expenditure as I've described.

Would any of Chester County's school trustees, or local elected leaders, or legislators be willing to investigate that matter?

Time's flying, and furloughs are coming.

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