Thursday, June 23, 2011

Pickens budget funds reading teachers, books, supplies

It reflects a dark day in America when the headline above elicits the kind of overwhelming relief and happiness that it certainly is in Pickens County this week. Shouldn't a county's school budget fund the essential needs of schools, including reading teachers and books and other supplies?

Somewhere down the road, perhaps a century hence, when public officials take so seriously their obligations under the federal and state constitutions that they always raise the necessary revenues and always afford access to good quality education to every child among their constituency, such headlines won't be the source of such surprised joy.

But here in the early-to-mid-twentieth century in South Carolina, we have to take the good news where we can get it. And the Pickens Sentinel gave us some early this week:

The Board of Trustees of the School District of Pickens County passed a 2011-2012 budget of $94,772,925 Monday night.

The budget includes 750,000 in funding for 14 reading interventionists, which had previously been cut from the budget figures when it looked like less funding would be available. Twelve of the reading interventionists will work full time at the larger elementary schools, while the other two will split time among the four smallest elementary schools.

The budget also contains $40,000 in funding for buying books for the library at the new Chastain Road Elementary school and $300,000 to supply teachers with $275 charge cards for teachers for purchasing classroom supplies.

The budget includes $60,000 for the hiring of an internal auditor, $60,000 for an unexpected insurance payment, and $32,000 to payback the SCEO for a stimulus grant.

The additional funding came from unexpected funds from the state.

“I’m happy we are restoring the 14 Reading Interventionists that work directly with students on improving their reading skills, and the board is restoring the $275 classroom supply cards to classroom teachers,” Board Chair Alex Saitta said. “By and large the bulk of the additional funds are going directly in the classroom.”

Trustee Jim Shelton proposed adding two more reading interventionists, two guidance counselors, three media specialists and 2.5 assistant principals for an additional cost of $592,000.

I don't know Mr. Shelton, but he seems to understand that the role of elected officials who are responsible for public schools is to protect and strengthen those schools, not run them down and starve them of resources. According to the Picken County School District's website, Shelton's term on that board expires in 2014, which happens to be when the office of state superintendent of education is up for election again. Hint, hint.

That is, unless Governor Nikki Haley and her legislative allies are successful in taking that office away from South Carolina's voters.

Shelton noted that the district with a reserve fund of about 11 percent of the total budget.

Shelton said that he has been on the board when the trustees needed to be financially conservative and when the board has spent freely. Shelton questioned whether the board was so conservative at this point that it was hurting education in Pickens County.

“For the past five months, the board has been dedicated to financial affairs,” Shelton said.

Shelton noted that while the district was the 13th largest in the state had the 13th highest budget, pay for the Superintendent was 53rd in the state. Shelton also noted that the district is ranked 12th in the state in academic achievement. “We have been high in achievement, low in costs,” Shelton noted.

Shelton said he feared the magic Pickens County education professionals were achieving would be disrupted if the board continued to make such drastic cuts.

Shelton said that cutting the assistant principals and guidance counselors would cause disruptive students to remain in the classroom, affecting their fellow students’ education. “We have heard the public say they don’t want these positions eliminated,” Shelton said.

Shelton he felt that the cuts were extreme and unnecessary since more funding had become available from the state. “The cuts made already are taking away the meat,” Shelton said. “We’re starting to cut the bone now."

Sadly, Shelton seems to be in the minority on the Pickens County board, and his proposals failed in the final vote. Still, Pickens seems to be well ahead of most of South Carolina's districts in making resources available to schoolchildren, and light years ahead of the legislature in that regard.

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