Winthrop expands furloughs program from 6 to 9 days unpaid leave

Local education officials said they were caught off guard Thursday by the magnitude of the state's latest round of funding cuts.

Upon hearing that state agencies will lose another 7 percent, Winthrop University quickly moved to expand its employee furlough program announced last week. Instead of six days of unpaid leave, employees will be forced to take nine.

Rock Hill schools likely will have to dip into its $23 million savings to offset part of its $3 million loss, said Bill Mabry, associate superintendent for administrative services.

"I had heard anything from 2 to 4 percent," Mabry said. "Seven is kind of a surprise. I wonder if the Budget and Control Board is trying to predict what's going to happen in the spring and get a head start on that."

South Carolina's budget oversight board on Thursday announced the state will slash spending by more than $380 million. Roughly $165 million of that will come from public school budgets.

The announcement trailed a dire economic forecast from Wednesday when the S.C. Board of Economic Advisors warned the state's unemployment rate could hit 14 percent by July.

Thursday's cut marks a $1 billion hole in a spending plan that in July stood at more than $7 billion.

When Winthrop told employees last week their biweekly paychecks between January and June each would be docked a half-day's pay, the university was preparing for a $1 million loss. Thursday's cut amounts to $1.37 million.

Winthrop, in a statement, announced that paychecks now will lose three-fourths of a day's pay. Employees will have some say in which days they take off, spokeswoman Rebecca Masters said.

In October, Winthrop, along with other state universities, was whacked with a nearly 15 percent funding cut. In managing its $3.4 million loss, the university announced plans to cancel some elective courses, close buildings earlier, freeze hiring and charge students a $50 fee.

Like Rock Hill schools, York Technical College is hoping to weather the latest round without resorting to layoffs or furloughs. The college expects to lose about $518,000.

"The 7 percent was more than what we had thought would come this early," said president Greg Rutherford. "I guess maybe I was being optimistic. I was hoping it wouldn't be more than 5 percent."

The school has so far offset portions of other state revenue losses with student tuition money. Enrollment over the past two years has grown faster than the college's expenses.

"It's been our saving grace," Rutherford said.

The college also has left several positions unfilled and trimmed travel and supplies.

Rutherford said he sees the potential for more state cuts after the first of the year.

"Then it would be dire straits," he said.

Officials from the Clover, Fort Mill and York school districts could not be reached Thursday.