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Rock Hill schools face steeper cuts

Already faced with deep cuts amid a massive budget shortfall, the Rock Hill school district now has to find at least $2 million more to trim, putting more jobs and programs in jeopardy.

Per-student spending is being cut by the state at a higher level than expected, meaning Rock Hill's district now will receive around $28 million in state money instead of the projected $30 million. That works out to $1,630 per child, as opposed to the current amount of $1,764.

This comes on the heels of a $10 million shortfall -- also caused by cuts in state funding -- that has prompted plans to cut jobs, including some teaching positions, and slash spending on numerous programs.

The district knew a cut in per-student spending was coming, but didn't know how big it would be.

"The question that everybody has is: When do we get to the bottom of the well so we can start building back?" Superintendent Lynn Moody said. "I don't think we've hit bottom yet. It's going to be an ongoing process of cutting."

Moody said she wasn't sure what the additional cuts would look like. Board members get their first look at the proposed 2010-2011budget when they meet Monday.

Earlier this month, the board approved Moody's "financial crisis plan," which would eliminate nearly 100 jobs, roughly half of which would come through layoffs. It also would slash salaries and pass on the cost of running certain programs -- including marching band and driver education -- to students' families.

Moody also had prepared another list of around a dozen worst-case options, which include cutting some assistant principal and program teacher positions, among other suggestions.

The new cuts won't necessarily come from that list, Moody said Thursday, and all proposed cuts likely would be up for discussion again.

But there aren't many options, board members say.

"That's the only thing I know to do ... go back and look at where we've not cut and have a discussion about where we go from here," board Chairman Bob Norwood said. "It's pretty devastating."

Among the options, Moody and some board members say:

Take money from the district's reserve fund

Cut more jobs and programs

A combination of the two

Staff also could recommend a tax increase on businesses to help make up the shortfall, though raising taxes to the maximum allowed by law would generate around $1.3 million, still leaving room for more substantial cuts.

"At this point, I don't think we can see the light at the end of the tunnel," said board member Jim Vining. "The state has pretty much taken away a lot of our ability to generate revenue locally.

"We're pretty much left to administer what the state sends us."

Given the uncertainty, Vining said, the board must take a very conservative approach with all district finances.

"It's not rocket science; if you don't have the money, you can't spend it," he said. "It's going to be an interesting discussion."

Norwood said it would be nice to have a window of time where the district wasn't bracing for another cut.

"It's adding fuel to the fire," he said of the latest expected cuts. "Everything we've done so far has been conceptual. Now we've got to execute the plan.

"That's the hard part, because there are people involved. Now this will make it worse. Much worse."

The real question, Moody said, is whether she and others are making the right choices.

"That's my major concern," she said.

Want to go?

The Rock Hill school board meets at 6 p.m. Monday in the board room of the District Office, 660 N. Anderson Road.