Although figures are fuzzy, Rock Hill school district officials expect to make big spending cuts by next school year.
School board members on Monday got a look at early budget projections, which show the district could be more than $8 million short for the 2011-2012 year.
No one recommended any specific cuts, but board members discussed sending employees on unpaid leave and eliminating Reading Recovery, a program for first-graders who struggle with reading.
The discussion marks the start of what's sure to be another tumultuous budget season in which school officials look to cut spending to match declining state revenue. State money for schools has been shrinking for the last three years as sagging sales tax revenues leave gaping holes in South Carolina's state budget.
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In a memo to the school board, Elaine Bilton, who oversees the district's finances, wrote: "Although we have received no official information from the state Department of Education concerning funding projections, we begin the budget process for the 2011-2012 fiscal year knowing we will have less revenue than expenditures."
The challenge this year will be making up for the loss of stimulus money, a federal infusion of nearly $4 million that dampened the impact of state budget-slashing the last two years.
Without any cuts or new sources of money, the district expects to have $122 million in costs but only $113.6 million to spend in 2011-2012, Bilton told the board.
To balance this school year's $118 million budget, the district sent employees on unpaid leave, cut programs and charged families fees to enroll students in school and for extracurricular activities.
The board has yet to vote on whether to continue those measures next school year.
One program that appears to be at risk is Reading Recovery, a literacy initiative that gets struggling first-graders intensive help in small groups or one-on-one with a teacher. Stimulus money kept the program alive this school year.
"There's an awful lot we do for students in this district that's good for children and good for learning that we may have to make some choices about," Associate Superintendent Harriet Jaworowski said.
"That scares me," school board Walter Brown said. "The people in Columbia need to wake up and fund these programs."
Superintendent Lynn Moody said she will present a draft "financial crisis plan" to the board on April 11. She'll then hold public meetings to get input.
A public hearing on the budget will follow in June.