2009-04-01 / Front Page

School district's budget strategy depends on federal stimulus money decision

By SCOTT POWELL Ledger Staff Writer spowell@gaffneyledger.com

"Without the stimulus money, there is a very real chance we will lose people from the school district next year. We have reached a point where we really can't cut anything else from the budget." — School District Superintendent Dr. Bill James "Without the stimulus money, there is a very real chance we will lose people from the school district next year. We have reached a point where we really can't cut anything else from the budget." — School District Superintendent Dr. Bill James The writing is on wall for Cherokee County and other school districts about whether a federal economic stimulus package will fulfill President Barack Obama's promise to save hundreds of teaching jobs.

Gov. Mark Sanford has until Friday to accept $700 million in federal stimulus money. Sanford wants to pay down the state's debt and has the authority to reject the funds. It's unclear whether state lawmakers can trump the governor and request the stimulus money on their own to help balance the budget.

At stake for local school districts is whether state stabilization funds from the federal economic package will be available to offset cuts in education budgets

this school year.

Cherokee County School District Superintendent Dr. Bill James offered a candid assessment at Monday's school board budget meeting on the importance of the education stimulus funding.

The budget being considered in the state House of Representatives uses federal stimulus funds to provide school districts with $2,342 per student. Without the extra education money, James said districts would see the state funding drop to $2,009 per student.

"Without the stimulus money, there is a very real chance we will lose people from the school district next year," James said. "We have reached a point where we really can't cut anything else from the budget."

State budget cuts have dropped the district's reserves from $6.6 million last summer to a projected $4 million when the current fiscal year ends June 30. The district has frozen travel, limited hiring, monitored school energy use and worked to get savings from a $1 million substitute teacher budget this school year.

Cherokee County is among a handful of the state's 85 school districts which have not discussed employee layoffs and furloughs.

The district remains intent on keeping any personnel cuts to a minimum while planning next year's budget.

"Our goal is to keep everybody working," James said. "We do not want finances to be a reason a person cannot come back."

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