Berkeley Co. School District considers budget cuts to avoid deficit caused by coronavirus shutdown

VIDEO: District making budget cuts for new school year

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The Berkeley County School Board is anticipating a “bleak” and “painstaking” budget for next school year because of the state shutdown caused by the coronavirus.

Cuts are already being made to some positions within Berkeley County schools, however district leaders said the employees who held those roles will not be let go. Instead, they will be moved to other duties.

“We are going to be as conservative as we possibly can and make sure we don’t increase class sizes and make sure we keep the employees we already have,” Board member Michael Ramsey said during Tuesday’s budget workshop.

Those cuts include six teaching allocations for Star Academy instructors. The elimination of those positions would essentially disband the program and save the district $300,000 annually, according to BCSD CFO Dr. Ashley Smith. The Star Academy program was designed to prevent student dropouts and help students recover lost credit hours. However, district officials said students could receive similar support through Edgenuity, the district’s virtual platform.

“It is not a recommendation to make drastic cuts at school levels. We want to operate effectively and efficiently and have the ability to make necessary purchases for our students,” Smith said.

District leaders maintained they’re focused on preserving the current student to teacher ratio of 25 to one and holding onto the employees they presently have.

However, those priorities could change when the full impact of the state’s shutdown is realized.

“The burden is on small businesses, and if they don’t reopen, there’s no one to pay the bills,” Board member Sally Wofford said. “I know this is bleak…But we really cannot predict that taxes are going to continue to be paid by those businesses. We need to prioritize our kids and current employees first…and cut everything else that we possibly can.”

The superintendent recommended the board freeze all out of state travel expenses.

“Sometimes there’s opportunity in crisis…so we’ve been able to take a very bad picture and make it manageable,” Superintendent Dr. Eddie Ingram said. “But there’s more pain, it’s not going to be painless. We are committed to spending only what we need to and not compromise the value of education for the children. “

BCSD leaders said the challenges they will face to balance next school year’s budget are different than anything they’ve seen in the past.

They have asked school administrators and other department heads to take a critical look at their budgets and remove any excess spending without negatively impacting students.

The superintendent has described the process as painstaking but frugal.

“There’s going to be very, very tough decisions to be made this year,” Smith said. “It’s a very bleak year, hopefully we will come out of this…so these are the times now to make those very hard decisions.”

The board will have at least one more budget workshop, a public hearing, then the budget will move through committee to the full board for consideration before its approved by the end of June.

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