Governor Sanford has signed legislation that gives school districts more flexibility when they’re short on cash. It allows for teacher furloughs and the shifting of funds. And it allows negotiation of retired teacher salaries who have returned to work. State Superintendent Jim Rex said it’s welcome news for school administrators. But he says the real issue facing schools now is whether or not the state will receive hundreds of millions of dollars in federal stimulus funds.
Statewide, teachers are concerned about the stimulus issue.
Dawn Turner is an instructional technology specialist at Lonnie B. Nelson elementary in Richland District #2. She says she knows that many of her colleagues in neighboring Richland One School District have already received pink slips and don’t expect to return to work in that district next year if the stimulus funds don’t arrive. She says the governor’s refusal to accept the stimulus money would be disasterous. “It’s a threat. I know of coworkers, even in Richland One, who got pink slips, and 150 letters were sent out before spring break last week. One school got hit with 12. You’re talking about a fourth of that school…it gone.”
Those who want Sanford to take the money say as many as 4-thousand teachers may loose their jobs if he doesn’t. Sanford says the effects of his not taking the money have been greatly exaggerated because the state has more money than senate budget writers admit to.Faith Dupree White is a guidance counselor at (Richland County’s) Lonnie B. Nelson elementary. She says normally teachers and staff have signed contracts by this point for next school year, but not so this year. “One of my biggest concerns is class size. A child’s education is much better when the student-teacher ratio is smaller. Class sizes will get bigger at this point. I know that’s a concern of our administrators, our superintendent.”
Dawn Smith is lead teacher for a Richland District 2 magnate program called the Academy For Civic Engagement. She says a major teacher layoff would affect everyone. Smith says the ripple affect will hurt the state for years, even touching real estate prices and the state’s ability to recruit new business and industry. “We’re not only looking at class sizes going up. We’re dealing with a global society, that we’re competing in, and our technology is going to go down, because we’re going to have a loss of technology support.”
Proposals are being developed in the statehouse that would give state lawmakers the authority to override Governor Sanford and take the stimulus money.