Dr. Rex On The Cigarette Tax

COLUMBIA – Superintendent of Education Jim Rex today called on the state Senate to raise South Carolina’s cigarette tax to the national average, saying a 30-cent-per-pack hike approved by the House is “woefully inadequate” for health care and education needs.

Rex has proposed moving the tax from 7 cents to $1.34 per pack and splitting the increased revenues between public education and health care.  His proposal negates the need for school districts to furlough 48,000 classroom teachers and would add more than 20,000 health-care related jobs to the state’s employment rolls.  

The House spending plan would put its extra 30-cents-a-pack increase in a Medicaid reserve account.  The House budget also means public schools would see about a $125 million reduction, with the state’s per-pupil funding falling to $1,630 – or 1995 levels.

“Last night in the House, they said that funding public education at the 1995 level was not too low, but that putting our cigarette tax at the national average was too high,” Rex said.  “That gives you a pretty good example of where we have our expectations and our goals misaligned.  The people of South Carolina have made it more than clear that they are ready for their elected leaders to raise the cigarette tax to the national average.

“I’m asking the Senate to do what the House was either unwilling or unable to do – put the tax at the national average – index it there and keep it there once and for all,” Rex said.  “We cannot afford to wait another 30 years for the political will to address this issue.”

Rex warned that the House spending measure means every South Carolina school district is going to suffer.

“The level of funding will mean thousands of teachers will lose their jobs and/or be furloughed, and we’ll have only enough money to fund school buses for 122 days out of a 180-day school year,” Rex said.

“No one is going to escape the carnage next year because of the budget the House passed last night.”

Rex said his cigarette tax plan is a “no-brainer” because it benefits the state’s two areas of greatest need – health care and public education. 

“These are our two primary responsibilities to our fellow citizens,” Rex said.  “For the general well-being of our state – our economic well-being, our educational well-being and our health – this is something we need to do.”

Health care and economic benefits of Rex’s cigarette tax plan include:

●     $1.3 billion saved in health care costs;

●     creation of up to 20,000 health care jobs;

●     66,000 fewer teens becoming addicted to smoking;

●     32,000 adults giving up smoking; and

●     27,000 fewer adults dying prematurely from smoking-relatedillness.

Articles Sent To Me….

Scissors open over 32 spots at schools

by Leslie Moses, Staff Writer

Monday night’s special school board meeting was set aside for district officials and board members to talk about money Newberry could receive and spend next school year.

The handout Chief Financial Officer Susan Dowd gave to the board shows estimates of $2.3 million fewer dollars for the Newberry School District to spend within a possible $39 million budget. Last year’s budget totalled $41 million.

After close to $2.5 million in budget cuts for the 08-09 school year, followed by around $1.6 million in funding cuts this school year, it is expected that spending must be slashed.

So through “agonizing days and sleepless nights,” Superintendent Bennie Bennett and his staff have searched for savings, he says.

“In looking at trying to find $2.3 million, we’re just trying to uncover every rock we possibly can,” said Bennett.

But with 85 percent of the district spending going to payroll, the district’s scissors are open over 20 teacher positions and other job titles to clip spending.

Here are potential savings listed on the second page of the district handout:

Position reduction possibilities with approximate savings -Cutting two administrative positions saves $147,104.

-Cutting 20 teacher positions saves $1 million.

Dowd explained that this 20-position cut would be spread out, eliminating full-time positions through the elementary, middle and high schools. The 20 positions were figured after district officials met with school principals to discuss how many students principals estimate they’ll have next year at school.

The $1 million is an estimate based on an average teacher salary of $50,000, said Dowd.

Because board member Gregg Taylor asked to see a breakdown of which schools and which positions would receive the projected cuts, board members and administration met after the meeting in a closed-to-the-public executive session. The session was closed based on the “personnel” provision for executive sessions in the Freedom of Information Act.

— Cutting five “certified instruction support positions” or positions ranging from instructional coaches, interventionists, guidance counselors, media specialists and curriculum coordinators saves the district around $250,000.

— Cutting five “classified” or non-certified positions, saves $150,000.

“We know that right now, based on what we have, that we’re going to eliminate 32 positions in the school district?” Board Chairman Don Saylor asked Bennett.

“Yes, sir,” said Bennett quietly, nodding with his lips pressed.

Other projected savings:

Furloughs

— Cutting four workdays with pay during the year for teachers saves $404,400.

— Cutting eight workdays with pay during the year for administrators saves $65,488.

Spending slashes

— Cutting 20 percent for department and school budgets, which covers anything from school paper to travel costs and teacher training, saves $292,688.

This “department and school budgets” area was cut 10 percent last year and 30 percent over the past three years, administration said.

But with a 20 percent cut, some board members wondered if schools would still have toilet tissue and basic paper for writing.

“Anybody running out of paper?” one board member asked.

“Not this year,” answered Little Mountain Principal Rudie Tarver from the crowd.

Jim Suber, assistant superintendent for operations, Dowd and school representatives in the crowd of about 30 seemed to assure the board that running out of supplies would not be a problem.

— Reducing the substitute budget saves the district $200,000.

Who then, asked board members, would watch a class without a substitute teacher?

Options include pulling a teacher out of a planning period to man a class, or perhaps an in-school suspension worker who has no students that day, said Bennett.

He also said in some cases, like in half-day teacher absences, even principals have taken over a class.

Sitting in the crowd, principals Timothy Hunter of Boundary Street Elementary and Deedee Westwood of Mid-Carolina Middle School both nodded in agreement they had overseen a class as a principal when there wasn’t a substitute.

“That worries me a little bit,” board member Taylor said, concerned with “keeping morale up” after a teacher is moved from a planning period to cover another class.

Taylor asked if principals would get a chance to talk to teachers about the situation.

“I’ll be honest with you, Mr. Taylor,” said Bennett. “I don’t know that morale isn’t going to take a hit when we’re talking about the numbers that we’re talking about. In talking about finding $2.3 million in a district our size, everybody is asked to do more with less.”

After the hour and a half discussion, some principals weren’t yet ready to give their reaction to the proposed cuts.

But Newberry Middle School Principal Katrina Singletary said hearing the budget plan is just a reality of the financial hard times she’s been hearing about on the news.

And though there was a district furlough this year, she says the Newberry district has been proactive in cutting expenses, and that the workday cut came way later than it did in other districts.

“And now, when we go through this work session process, it just reminds me that we’re not immune to that,” she said. “We’re going to definitely see the effects of our economy here in

Furloughs are school district’s ‘wildcard’

By Toya Graham – tgraham@fortmilltimes.com

FORT MILL — 

The Fort Mill School District employs 1,260 people.

For now.

Soon, school officials will trim that number by nearly 4 percent. Those remaining face furloughs next year as part of a cost saving plan that is crucial to the 2010-2011 operating budget.

Last week, the school board approved a litany of budget cuts as a way to balance next year’s budget. Gone from that budget are 47 jobs or 3.7 percent of the district’s workforce.

The district employs 43 administrators, and 439 individuals hold classified positions. Still, teachers make up the bulk of the employee pool as the district employs 778 teachers, according to Chuck Epps, assistant superintendent. To save money and make up for projected financial shortfalls, administrators will face a 10-day furlough, according to the recently approved cost-saving recommendations. Teachers and other employers will face a five-day furlough.

“Teachers are on a 190-day contract,” Epps said. “They teach for 180 of those days. We would have to furlough five of those 10 days.”

And there will be no cherry-picking days, Epps said.

“We won’t give employees the option of when to take them,” Epps said about the furlough days. “They (administrators) will take the same five days as the teachers. Any additional days could be taken in the summer.”

Incorporating furlough days is projected to help the district realize a savings that top $1 million. Likewise, having a concerted furlough effort will yield yet another cost saver, he said.

“The reason we want to furlough all (employees) at the same time is to save on energy costs at all of our sites,” Epps said.

Yet, factoring in furloughs brings uncertainty.

“We don’t know when we’re going to do it,” Epps said.

And the proposed five and 10-day furlough is subject to change, he said.

“Something could change at the state level,” he said.

This year, the district took a financial blow to the tune of $2,298,788 in state funding. More cuts are expected next year, district leaders said.

“If we do not have to cut as much out of the (2010-2011) budget as we anticipated, we could decrease the amount of furlough days taken,” Epps said.

Earlier this year, the school board’s special budget committee explored ways to make up the financial shortfall and suggested program and personnel cuts that will ultimately help the district realize a savings of $5,494,094.

Included in that figure is $1,414,753. That’s how much district leaders note they will save by issuing district wide furlough days.

“Furlough days are our wild card,” Epps said.

The school board, during a public hearing on April 26, is set to take its initial action on the 2010-2011 budget. The board is expected to take a final vote on May 10.