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Rock Hill schools move toward cuts

A day after the Rock Hill school board voted to save $10 million by trimming salaries, charging students fees and laying off employees, district officials began moving on those cuts.

Superintendent Lynn Moody said her staff met Tuesday and is still working out how to implement her "financial crisis plan." She expects to lay out specifics within the next month.

"We've never done this before, so we don't have procedures for a lot of things," Moody said.

Teaching assistants, working retirees and others who may be affected by job eliminations will soon receive letters explaining details. If enough people retire or quit, there's a chance that no teachers will be laid off, Moody said. Job cuts could be achieved instead by leaving positions unfilled.

Working retirees will be the last to be rehired, as schools will give priority to employees who have yet to retire. Those retirees who are rehired face a 15 percent pay cut.

Moody expects to explain next month how she'll carve $400,000 out of the district's central office. Officials on Tuesday narrowed the list of jobs that could go, said Moody, who declined to specify which positions. They will include administration and clerical jobs, she said, but not associate superintendents.

The district also is working with a consulting firm it hired to craft a plan to downsize the operations department to save at least $500,000. Operations, including maintenance staff and custodians, has 170 employees and cost the district more than $18 million last school year, according to district financial records.

The consultants have completed a preliminary draft that would cut more than $500,000 in spending, Moody said. She declined to say how much because it could change by the April 26 school board meeting when the firm presents its report.

"It is a very painful report," Moody told a crowd during Monday night's school board meeting.

Several aspects of the crisis plan are still up in the air.

Scaling back salaries for working retirees and sending employees on unpaid leave hinge on whether the state Legislature renews a law relieving schools from certain mandates.

If renewed, schools could send teachers on unpaid leave for five days, while all other employees would be furloughed 10 days. That would save Rock Hill schools roughly $2.25 million.

It's not clear when lawmakers will vote on that.

"We're banking on that flexibility bill," Moody said. "If we don't get it, we're really in trouble."

On several occasions, Moody has stressed that her plan is a "guideline" for crafting next school year's budget and is subject to change. More cuts could come if the state guts education spending even deeper.

There's a chance Rock Hill schools might be short $2 million more than they originally planned for. If the shortfall does amount to $12 million, Moody has a contingency plan that would eliminate academic coaches, assistant principals and school resource officers.

Also undecided is which two elementaries will become foreign language schools of choice.

Foreign language courses will be eliminated at all but four elementary schools.

Sunset Park Center for Accelerated Studies will offer German next school year. Rosewood Elementary also will keep its foreign language class because it's a required part of the school's International Baccalaureate program.

Two other elementaries, yet to be named, will offer Spanish. Students from outside those schools' attendance area will be able to apply to attend starting in the 2011-2012 school year.

Two programs that Moody originally planned to eliminate are safe for now.

Reading Recovery, an intensive one-on-one literacy program for struggling first-graders, will be around for one more year. Originally, Moody planned to eliminate it at most elementaries, but federal stimulus money will help keep it alive.

"That's not one (program) people need to worry about immediately," Moody said.

Also, the district will continue spending $15,000 on its high school orchestra and strings program.