Rock Hill school leaders are challenging the public to balance their 2011-2012 budget, which is expected to be $8.5 million short.
Anyone who wants to take a stab at it can visit a new website, www.k12webdev.com/rhsbudgetchallenge, which offers choices to trim spending.
Options include cramming more children in classes (which would involve cutting teachers' jobs), combining schools and raising taxes on businesses.
Superintendent Lynn Moody said she was inspired to launch the site by governments and school districts in Nevada, Virginia and North Carolina, which are taking similar approaches. To some degree, the websites are public relations efforts meant to give the public a sense of the choices agencies face in a down economy.
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"We're hoping to give people a fun way to learn about the budget," Moody said. "So as they have dialogues, they can have more intelligent conversations about specific items."
School officials still are waiting for final projections about how much the state plans to give them for the 2011-2012 school year. Rock Hill district leaders expect a shortfall of more than $8 million.
State money for schools has been shrinking for the last three years as sagging sales tax revenues gut South Carolina's state budget.
The challenge for Rock Hill schools this year is making up for the loss of stimulus money, a federal infusion of nearly $4 million that dampened the impact of budget-slashing during the last two years. Without any cuts or new sources of money, Rock Hill expects to have $122 million in costs but only about $113.6 million to spend in 2011-2012.
The district's online "budget challenge" works like an interactive survey.
Readers can cut spending from a variety of areas, from academics and athletics to personnel and services.
The job is to rack up $8.5 million in cuts, which might seem simple at first. But each entry has a tab that, when clicked, opens to explain the impact of the cut.
For example, nearly half the budget gap can be closed by letting the average class size grow by three students - the legal maximum. But that could lead to more than 30 students in some classes and 57 employee layoffs.
Moody said the site isn't an actual survey, and the data likely won't impact her budget. But administrators will review the answers.
"It's not a vote or a referendum," she said. "It's an interactive educational tool for you to try."
To balance the current 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.
Moody plans to 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.