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Lancaster Co. schools layoffs likely

There will likely be furloughs, possibly an increase in middle school athletic fees, and vacancies left unfilled at Lancaster County schools in the fall.

Tony Walker, finance director for the Lancaster County school district, said he is working on cutting between $8 million and $10 million from the district's 2010-'11 budget. The cuts are needed to cover increases in costs, including insurance, he said; but primarily, they are needed to offset a reduction in state funding.

Walker predicts the budget will be significantly lower than the '09-'10 $75 million spending plan because it won't include the $3.8 million in federal stimulus money that boosted last year's budget.

No budget has been finalized, Walker said, but he plans to present a tentative budget to district Supt. Gene Moore this week. Moore will review the budget and pass it along to school board members with recommendations.

Some teachers and staff likely will be laid off, Walker said, though he isn't sure how many. At least 26 teaching positions will be vacant next year because of teachers retiring or moving out of the district, and those positions will not be filled, Walker said. Walker also anticipates furloughs for teachers and administration next year.

"There will definitely be some cuts," Walker said. "It depends a lot on how many retirees we have. But it will be hard to get into next year and not have that happen. The last thing we want to do is cut out positions in the classroom. We hope to keep everyone employed, but it will be hard for that to happen. Whether it affects people in positions or vacancies, I can't say, but there is no way we'll have these cuts from the state and not cut positions."

Class sizes will increase, Walker said, though he isn't sure by how much.

"Our goal is to do everything we can without affecting classrooms, but with budget cuts the way they are, it is increasingly more difficult to do," said Lydia Quinn, executive director of planning and accountability for the district. "With more students in the classroom, it affects what is going on in that classroom. We have great teachers that do a great job, but we're expected to do more with less."

It's also likely that raises for noncertified staffers will not be included in the budget. However, Walker emphasizes that budget cuts have not been set in stone.

"There are still just so many unknowns," Walker said. "We're doing a bunch of 'what ifs?' But as we can tie down our numbers we'll know more of what we're shooting for."

At the Fort Mill school district, plans to eliminate funding for middle school sports have been controversial. Middle school sports in Lancaster County schools are expected to remain intact, Walker said, although the district might increase athletic participation fees.

The driver's education program also will be restructured to save money, Walker said, but most programs in the Lancaster County schools are safe from budget cuts.

"We probably don't offer anywhere near the programs that other districts have to offer, because we just didn't have the money to offer them, so we don't have a lot of programs to cut," Walker said.

No summer school will be offered at elementary schools this year, a cut that the district is continuing from last year. The fees for summer school in middle school will increase from $75 to $100. High school students retaking a course will see a $50 increase, to $250.

The board will present the final budget on May 18.