Stimulus lowers budget shortfall

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AIKEN --- A laundry list of proposed budget cuts, along with $6.9 million in stimulus money, will allow the Aiken County School District to stave off furloughs for the 2009-10 school year.

The Aiken County School Board on Tuesday night unanimously approved next year's budget of $152.4 million. When the board began the budget process, it was $12 million short in revenue sources for the coming school year. Revenues are now only $2 million less than it began with in 2008-09.

The board also approved a 6.5-mill increase that will add about $1.2 million to the budget. The increase will not affect primary residences.

Superintendent Beth Everitt said the words "pleased" and "budget" never go in the same sentence, but she was glad furloughs were off the table.

Restored items include:

- Lower pupil-teacher ratio in grades four, five and seven. That will add perhaps eight teaching positions. Ratios will still increase by two for other elementary grades and by one for middle school.

- The International Baccalaureate program for next year for rising seniors to earn their diplomas.

- Supplies, technology and maintenance budgets.

The district will use $4.5 million of the stimulus money for its contingency fund. The fund dwindled from $11 million to about $7 million when it was used to absorb state budget cuts earlier this year.

Board Chairwoman Christine Harkins said the budget was well thought out and offered the least impact on the district. She said when the school district has managed cuts prudently in the past it ended up ahead in the long run.

The board also approved the use of $12.3 million in stimulus funds provided exclusively for Title I and the Individuals With Disabilities Educational Improvement Act. The money will go toward 40 instructions positions that will aid in curriculum and reading intervention.

Although the board appeared relieved when the approval was final, Comptroller Tray Traxler's final presentation came with a caveat that next year would probably be just as rough.

State revenues for May were down by more than $200 million. If the trend continues, he said, another round of cuts could come very soon.

With about 90 percent of the district's budget tied up in salaries and benefits, Dr. Everitt said, it can only do so much in the future.

Reach Julia Sellers at (706) 823-3424 or julia.sellers@augustachronicle.com.

Aiken County Schools 2009-2010 budget

2009-10 budget: $152,458,701

2008-09 budget: $154,521,878

Stimulus money: $6,889,523

In restoring previous cuts, the board:

- Increased the contingency fund by $4,522,239. Brings the fund back to about $12 million.

- Lowered pupil/teacher ratios by one in fourth and fifth grades, $298,650

-Lowered pupil/teacher ratios by one in seventh grade, $151,386

- Increased alternative fund programming, $65,000

- Added a teacher at Byrd Learning Center, $55,000

- Restored supply budgets, $118,515

- Restored technology budget, $100,000

- Restored maintenance budget, $100,000

- Eliminated furloughs, $1,917,975

Millage increase: 6.5 mills to 137.5; equals about $39.50 per $100,000 of property value on nonprimary residences -- state law prohibits millage increases on primary residences. Adds about $1.2 million to the budget.

Visit www.aiken.k12.sc.us for a complete list of school budget reductions from 2009-10


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