Zais: Teacher training among suggested cuts

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COLUMBIA --- Teacher training and evaluations, improvement on SAT scores and school building maintenance are among items that state school Superintendent Mick Zais recommends trimming in an effort to fend off cuts to classroom learning.

"All of these programs provide some benefit, but if you have to make cost savings, where are areas that have the least negative impact?" Zais told House budget writers Wednesday about his initial findings.

Zais suggested legislators cut 25 programs tallying $107 million, and spend an additional $36 million elsewhere for a savings of $71 million. The presentation to the House Ways and Means subcommittee that writes the budget for public schools came on his fourth full day in office.

The state faces an $829 million gap for the fiscal year starting July 1, and education and health care risk deep cuts, because that's where the bulk of state money goes.

Zais wants to double the number of teachers in the state's online learning program, which allows students -- particularly in small, rural districts -- to take summer school classes and advanced courses otherwise unavailable. The 10 new teachers would cost less than $688,000.

The bulk of his request for more money funds items outside his control.

It includes $14 million to cover rising fuel and bus maintenance costs, $12 million to bring bus driver salaries to the federal minimum wage, and $10 million for the National Board Certification program.

South Carolina ranks third nationwide in nationally certified teachers, with a total of 7,784 earning an annual stipend of $7,500 per state law. Last year, the House voted to scrap the incentive pay altogether for teachers who applied after July 1. But a compromise with the Senate instead lowered the stipend for those teachers to $5,000 annually for 10 years.

House Majority Leader Kenny Bingham said the House might try again this year.

Zais made clear his request stemmed only from state law, and that he plans to study whether the program is worth the expense. He hopes to move toward performance-based pay over time.

His recommended cuts translate to roughly 100 fewer jobs, with more than 30 coming from a 15 percent reduction to the state agency, and 14 by cutting a principal training program.

He suggested that the state again suspend buying new textbooks, saving $34 million.

Test score assistance cuts

South Carolina school Superintendent Mick Zais suggested eliminating assistance for SAT and ACT improvement, saving $281,000. South Carolina historically ranks near the bottom nationwide in SAT scores -- numbers often tossed about by school voucher supporters -- though the company that administers the college entrance exam discourages comparisons because the percentage of students who take the test vary widely state to state.

Zais said SAT averages are too easy to manipulate.

"It's not an accurate measure of student achievement, because not every student takes the test," said Zais, the former president of private Newberry College.

-- Associated Press


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