041218 Schools: Enrollment falls as district seeks to raise salaries
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Although the Waccamaw schools are growing, enrollment in the district is down this year.

Schools: Enrollment falls as district seeks to raise salaries

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

New contracts are going out today to 1,209 teachers and other Georgetown County School District employees, 120 less than a year ago as the state phases out a program that allowed retirees to continue to work. How many of those positions will be filled is uncertain as the school district watches its enrollment drop at the same time it is trying to raise pay to compete with neighboring districts.

“We probably won’t fill some vacancies,” Superintendent Randy Dozier said.

As of March 30, the district enrollment was down by 116 students to 9,032. The district receives funds from the state based on the number of students. The current base funding is $2,425, with more allocated for students based on grade level and special needs. The figure could rise as the state legislature works through its budget, but the per pupil increase wouldn’t offset the loss due to the decline in enrollment, although Lisa Johnson, the district finance director, told the school board this week it is “better than the nothing we were talking about.”

With the loss of teachers working under the state retirement program and others leaving the district, there are 54 teacher vacancies, Jon Tester, the head of human resources, said. He expects some of the retirees will be hired back because they have certifications that are hard to find.

Board Member Arthur Lance urged the district not to “fill just to fill” even though recent graduates are less expensive than veteran teachers. “You understand what I’m talking about,” he said.

“I’m concerned we’re not going to have enough young ones,” Board Chairman Jim Dumm said.

Board Member Richard Kerr shared that concern and questioned whether the district’s salaries are competitive.

“That’s a work in progress,” Dozier said.

The state is proposing a 1 percent pay raise for teachers along with a step increase based on seniority. The district also faces higher costs for heath insurance and retirement through the state.

State law limits the ability of local government and school district’s to raise taxes for operations to a combination of the annual growth in the federal Consumer Price Index plus the local population growth. For the school district, that is 2.5 percent or an increase of 2.7 mills. If the board decides to raise taxes, it could bring in an additional $900,000 in its $84.9 million budget, Johnson said.

The increase works out to $162 for every $100,000 of value for commercial property and second homes. Owner-occupied property is exempt from tax for school operations.

The district also has requests to add positions at some schools and on its facilities staff as it begins additions funded through a $165 million bond referendum in 2016. The Georgetown Police Department wants the district to cover the salaries of two school resource officers. It currently shares the cost.

Alan Walters, the district safety director, wants to hire a full-time assistant. Lance suggested that the district place one in each of the four attendance areas, even as he acknowledges it would add to the cost. Dozier agreed that there needs to be a coordinator in each area. “I’d love to have a person in every parking lot to monitor the traffic,” he said. “We’ve upped everything we’re doing, but we could do a lot more.”

The state has provided a range of ideas to improve school safety, but it hasn’t provided money, Walters said.

The district has school resource officers in high schools and middle schools and off-duty officers in elementary schools. “At some point, we’re going to have to renegotiate those contracts” with law enforcement, Dozier said. “Everybody needs to contribute.”

And while the school shooting in Florida that killed 17 people in February has raised the profile of school safety, Dozier also pointed out that South Carolina has a new accountability system that begins this year. Schools and districts will get report cards for the first time in several years. “That’s where our focus should be,” Dozier said.

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