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Rock Hill school board approves salary cuts, layoffs

Before the Rock Hill school board unanimously approved a plan Monday to slash $10 million in spending by cutting programs and laying off employees, several people urged them to reconsider two options.

Speaking for herself and co-workers, Sherry McAbee, who drives a school bus for the district, explained how they would be affected if the board eliminates attendance incentives for drivers, who get $50 for driving 25 consecutive days and $200 for 40 days.

Drivers make little as it is, McAbee said, and must work morning, midday and afternoon routes, often forgoing medical appointments and personal errands. The incentives they get for doing so help them save for short weeks when they're not fully paid and summer when paychecks don't come.

"It helps 90 percent of drivers," she said. "Please, I beg every one of you to rethink this."

The school board met Monday night to vote on Superintendent Lynn Moody's "financial crisis plan," which would eliminate nearly 100 jobs, roughly half of which would come through layoffs, slash salaries and pass on the cost of running certain programs to students' families.

State money for schools has been shrinking for the past two years as tax revenue continues to fall. Rock Hill schools, which spent just under $128 million last school year, expect to get around $116 million next school year. How much exactly is unclear because state lawmakers are still crafting a spending plan.

At least seven bus drivers stood up in support of McAbee, who was followed by six speakers - a couple in Northwestern High purple and others in Rock Hill High burgundy - who took turns fighting for the marching band. Moody's proposal eliminates $25,000 given to each of the city's three high school bands, leaving it to principals to decide how to fund the programs.

"Imagine someone coming in and breaking up your home," said Samantha Berinsky, a former Northwestern drum major, to the board. "I know these budget cuts aren't put in to take these programs away, but it does slowly take its toll."

Moody and the seven board members said they had little choice but to begrudgingly move ahead.

"It's hard to hear students talk about their sense of belonging and to think about how difficult those cuts are going to be," Moody said.

"I always thought that reassignment was the worst," board member Mildred Douglas said. "But it's this. It's the crisis that we're in."

Board member Jason Silverman blamed schools' financial troubles on the economy coupled with "bad legislation," then blasted politicians.

"I wish I had a giant broom to sweep them out," he said.

Silverman also took aim at critics who have sent e-mails that say solving the budget problem is simple.

"It is not simple," he said. "It is agonizing. ... Why hasn't that e-mail been sent to a member of the York County (legislative) delegation?"

"If you think it's so damn easy, you run for the school board."

To give the crowded room a sense of what school officials have had to consider, board Chairman Bob Norwood read from e-mails they have received from teachers and other employees:

"Do not touch Reading Recovery" (an intensive one-on-one literacy program for first-graders who fall behind).

Another: "Please cut all Reading Recovery teachers and let us teach these kids like we used to."

Another: "Cut out all of the arts. It's fluff."

One more: "The arts are the heartbeat of our district."

Norwood then said he was troubled by some of Moody's proposed cuts, including eliminating the entire $3,000 annual bonus for teachers who have earned certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

But, Norwood said, "I'm not going to vote against this plan because I've got heartburn with some items on the list."

The vote in favor of Moody's crisis plan was unanimous.

The 'financial crisis plan'

Rock Hill schools' "financial crisis plan" is a guideline officials will use when crafting a budget, Superintendent Lynn Moody said. Plans could change. Here's what the current plan would do:

Send employees on unpaid leave: Five days for teachers and 10 days for all other employees, which the law requires of districts that furlough ($2.25 million).

Eliminate 34 teaching jobs ($2.05 million).

Trim the district's 108 working retirees' salaries by 15 percent ($1 million).

Eliminate 31 teaching assistant jobs ($800,000).

Cut $3,000 bonus given to teachers who earn certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, the profession's top credential ($800,000).

Other parts of the plan

Downsize the operations department, affecting about 70 employees, with job cuts and shorter work schedules ($500,000).

Eliminate elementary school foreign language at every campus but four.

Eliminate middle school elective courses, cutting seven jobs ($427,000).

Eliminate an unspecified number of administrator jobs and district office jobs, an increase from Moody's earlier list which cut just two administrator jobs ($400,000).

Charge families a $25 "instructional fee" when they enroll children in school ($225,000).

Charge students $350 to take driver's education; this option could change if the state lets schools opt out of offering driver's ed ($200,000).

Eliminate Reading Recovery at several schools and replace with a less-intensive literacy intervention program ($150,000).

Cut security money from high schools, eliminating three jobs and clipping salary supplements for about 25 others ($150,000).

Eliminate middle schools' five media assistant jobs ($140,000).

Cut two elementary physical education teachers ($120,000).

Increase six high school program coordinators' workloads ($120,000).

Increase high school testing coordinators' work load ($100,000).

Cut attendance incentives for bus drivers who get $50 for driving 25 consecutive days and $200 for 40 days ($80,000).

Cut department budgets by 5 percent ($80,000).

Charge students a $25 fee to play sports ($75,000).

Stop giving the high school marching bands $25,000 each ($75,000).

Charge students $10 to go on field trip to Brattonsville and cut the teacher overseeing the program, allowing the Museum of York County to run it ($72,800).

Cut all salary supplements by 5 percent ($65,000).

Cancel membership in the Old English Consortium, a group of area school districts that work together for teacher training and support ($58,000).

Trim number of working days for middle school guidance counselors ($53,000).

Stop letting employees sell back unused sick days ($50,000).

Close elementary and middle schools during July ($50,000)

Charge students $10 to go on field trip to Carroll School and cut the teacher overseeing the program, allowing the Museum of York County to run it ($41,500).