Fort Mill Times

Stimulus cash could stave off proposed school cuts

Gov. Mark Sanford
Gov. Mark Sanford

Fort Mill School District officials, who are trying to piece together a 2009-10 budget while wrestling with a $4.7 million revenue gap, will have an extra $2.7 million to plug in.

The money will come in the form of federal stimulus package aid. A S.C. Supreme court ruling last week paved the way for the money to be released.

Gov. Mark Sanford Monday signed a request for $700 million in stimulus money for the state. Sanford's move complies with an order from the court. The Thursday, June 4, ruling came on the heels of justices hearing arguments over whether or not Sanford had the legal right to reject the cash despite objections from the S.C. Legislature.

"We still have a $2 million shortfall, but it certainly is better than $4.7," Superintendent Keith Callicutt said.

The Fort Mill School Board last month unveiled a proposed $66.9 million budget that eliminates nine positions and called for two-day furloughs for teachers and four days for administrators. It put middle school spring sports in jeopardy and left some desired expenses -- such as a new payroll system -- on the chopping block.

But, the stimulus money could mean fewer cuts.

"We are looking at what that will mean for the Fort Mill School District's budget for the 2009-2010 school year," School Board Chairwoman Jan Smiley said of the federal stimulus money.

"We will be looking at whether or not we still need to furlough or the possibility of reinstating some of those positions."

The district also could consider earmarking some of the stimulus money for additional cost germane to opening the district's fourth middle school, Smiley said. Nothing is set in stone, school leaders contend. For now, the school board will continue budget talks, Callicutt said.

"We will begin our discussions based on what we've already given the [school] board," he said.

"We will wait until we get some official notification from the state. Then we will look at recommended cuts and determine what if anything will be put back in the budget."

Among the nine district employees whose positions were cut are two middle school teachers who will be unemployed come July 1 under the proposed budget. Joining them will be three media assistants. Also, 11 unfilled positions are frozen under next year's proposed budget. Included are two special education teachers; a middle school guidance official; three posts in department support and five high school teachers.

It is not clear whether or not eliminated positions will be restored with the stimulus money.

"I know nothing definite until I've spoken to the board," Callicutt said.

The school board scheduled a Monday, June 15, public hearing on the budget; However, a special called meeting could be scheduled next week, Smiley said.

"The board hasn't had any discussions since Thursday's ruling," she said. "Certainly, student academic needs will be our priority."

Knowing the money is coming -- and no longer in limbo -- is good news, she said.

"We are happy to see an end to the argument and the whole process that we've been watching unfold for the past several months," she said. "