By Greg Oliver
During its opening week, the S.C. House of Representatives wasted little time approving their part of a joint resolution that provides funding flexibility to school districts throughout the state for the second consecutive year.
The state Senate will take up the matter next week and, if approved, will send it to Gov. Mark Sanford for final approval.
The state’s 85 school districts were among the agencies impacted by multiple budget cuts imposed during the past fiscal year. With the latest 5 percent across the board cut, and the probability of additional cuts in funding, members of the General Assembly feel school districts need the flexibility provided last year again this fiscal year.
“It allows school boards and local superintendents to take maximum advantage of funding, so that if they feel that state funds could be used in a different manner, they have the right to do so,” said State Rep. Bill Sandifer, R-Seneca.
State Rep. Bill Whitmire, R-Walhalla, agreed, adding, “We’re in such dire financial straits, and this is an effort to help schools out because we haven’t hit bottom yet. We probably have 10 percent more cuts coming.”
Under the resolution, school districts and special schools of this state “may transfer and expend funds among appropriated state general fund revenues, Education Improvement Act funds, Education Lottery Act funds and funds received from the Children’s Education Endowment Fund for school facilities and fixed equipment assistance, to ensure the delivery of academic and arts instruction to students.”
While the resolution does not allow school districts to transfer funds required for debt service or bonded indebtedness, it does allow the following permitted in the last fiscal budget that includes: allowing school districts to delay issuing teacher contracts from April 15 to May 15, uniformly negotiating salaries below the district salary schedule for retired (non-TERI) teachers and furloughing teachers for up to five non-instructional days if not prohibited in their contract as long as administrators are furloughed for twice the number of days.
Also included under the provisions of the funding flexibility resolution (H.4299) are encouraging school districts to reduce expenditures through limiting the number of low enrollment courses, reducing travel for staff and school board, reducing and limiting activities requiring dues and memberships, reducing transportation costs for extracurricular and academic competitions and expanding virtual instruction.
State Sen. Thomas Alexander, R-Walhalla, who represents Oconee and the Clemson area of Pickens County, said he supports the measure.
“I think funding flexibility has worked extremely well during this past budget cycle and, as we continue to face economic and revenue challenges, we need to provide the school districts with as much flexibility as we can,” he said.