Sumter School District waiting on state for next move

Financial recovery plan had $6.6M in budget cuts, but state board turned it down

BY BRUCE MILLS
bruce@theitem.com
Posted 4/12/19

Though it will change because Sumter School District's appeal of its state-declared fiscal emergency was denied Tuesday, the financial recovery plan presented at the hearing showed about $6.6 million in budget cuts.The cuts presented before the …

This item is available in full to subscribers

Sumter School District waiting on state for next move

Financial recovery plan had $6.6M in budget cuts, but state board turned it down

Posted

Though it will change because Sumter School District's appeal of its state-declared fiscal emergency was denied Tuesday, the financial recovery plan presented at the hearing showed about $6.6 million in budget cuts.The cuts presented before the state Board of Education in Columbia largely reflected increases in expenditures - mostly due to state mandates - and basically flat revenue levels. Because the state board denied the district's appeal of state Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman's fiscal emergency declaration in Sumter, the state will recommend changes to the plan and budget.

District Chief Financial Officer Jennifer Miller said Thursday that she and administration are on hold now, waiting on those recommendations from the state Department of Education's finance department. However, the district office is trying to assure employees that its intention is to achieve necessary personnel cuts through attrition and restructuring.

"I don't know where the plan stands now, since we lost the appeal," Miller said. "I'm waiting to hear from the state Department. I am not allowed to move forward with anything, and we're on hold until the state Department contacts us because they are technically in charge of giving us financial recommendations now."

Being in a fiscal emergency does not mean the state can take over the entire district or take board members off their seats, but it does allow them to lead the district financially.

In an email to all district employees late Wednesday afternoon, Interim Superintendent Debbie Hamm also said administration is waiting on guidance from the state Department and doesn't want to cut personnel.

"In the meantime," Hamm said, "please know that the district has made and will continue to make efforts where possible to reassign and/or reclassify staff so that those employees whose positions are eliminated will not lose the opportunity to continue to work for the district."

Spearman said Tuesday after the hearing that her finance department will provide recommendations in as "timely a fashion as possible," given April is a critical time for districts and personnel contracts.

What cuts were part of recovery plan?

Miller said the school district's board of trustees and administration worked together on creating the new recovery plan, and the board wanted to ensure the reopening of Mayewood Middle School was included in that plan. Only annual operational costs for Mayewood were included in that plan, and they were budgeted at $295,000. That was less than 5% of increased expenditures for the district for next year.

On Monday night, the trustees voted 6-3 to approve the new financial recovery plan that was presented Tuesday in Columbia. Those in favor were Vice Chairman Frank Baker, Clerk the Rev. Daryl McGhaney, Brian Alston, Sherril Ray, Matthew "Mac" McLeod and Barbara Jackson.

Numerous teacher position cuts were part of the new plan and will likely move forward, but the district plans to achieve those through attrition and restructuring, Miller said.

Also included in the plan was a freeze on 26 current staff vacancies and elimination of numerous school paraprofessionals, totaling $1.1 million. Energy (temperature) savings totaled $506,000. A lighting project showed savings next year at $429,000. Limiting travel, overtime and other miscellaneous cuts were also part of the proposed plan.

But, Miller emphasized, at least some of those items are on hold now, waiting the state Department's recommendations.

The board has already confirmed it plans to ask Sumter County Council for a millage increase to fund state-mandated teacher salary increases.

Spearman did say Tuesday the reopening of Mayewood will most likely not be included in those recommendations.

The vote by the Sumter board to reopen the East Brewington Road school in the fall was was spurned Spearman to declare a fiscal emergency because that decision goes against a financial recovery plan the district got approved last summer while it was under fiscal watch.

The watch was in place as the district emerged from fiscal 2016, when it was revealed in an official audit there was $6.2 million in overspending. Mayewood and F.J. DeLaine Elementary School, two low-enrollment campuses, were closed starting this school year to save money.

"Right now, the state is in charge," Miller said. "The most important thing we want to tell people is that we don't want to cut positions. We want to try to keep morale up, but we do have tough decisions that will have to be made. The budget is going to be challenging next year, but we are going to work through it as best we can."

Enrollment declines translate to some budget cuts

In the last three years, the district has averaged about a 198-student enrollment drop each year, Miller said, but it hasn't reduced teaching positions based on that data.

Next year's budget factored in a 150-enrollment decline, and the financial recovery plan included the elimination of seven teaching positions based on that information.

If the district's enrollment had remained the same in recent years, the district would be receiving between $1.5 million and $2 million in additional revenue next year. Thus, if that additional revenue were on the table, less cuts would be necessary, Miller said.

Still, the district doesn't plan to increase student-teacher ratios, Miller and Hamm have said, and the district's goal is not to impact children in the classroom setting.

Nothing set in stone yet

Miller also said her revenue estimates for next year were "conservative" and if additional revenue comes in, the district will reduce cuts wherever it can. Also, if a decision is made by the state that the district doesn't have to pay back a maintenance of effort finding of $770,000, then several personnel cuts might be able to be saved, as well.