Teachers, school districts react to stimulus court ruling - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina |

Teachers, school districts react to stimulus court ruling

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By Jordan Sandler - bio | email and Drew Stewart - bio | email

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Now that the state Supreme Court has forced Gov. Mark Sanford to accept $700 million in stimulus money that would mostly go to the education department, some Midlands teachers are speaking out.

"I think it's a wonderful decision. We've been waiting a long time for this decision," says Sandlapper elementary teacher Megan Allen.

Allen sees the stimulus money as much more than just an investment in the next two years.

In her first class she sees the future businessmen, CEOs, lawmakers and entrepreneurs of South Carolina.

"The best way to invest in our future is to invest in our students," she says. "We need to make sure that they have the skills and the knowledge so they can tackle these problems in the future."

Allen says unlike some of her fellow teachers, she wasn't counting on the stimulus money to hang on to her job. But she was concerned what losing the money would mean for her students.

"I was really worried about the class sizes going up," she says. "The more kids you have in there, the less time you're gonna have for one on one instruction."

Now she feels a sigh of relief, with confidence that her friends won't lose their jobs, and certain programs won't be taken from her kids.

"That is the best way to make sure we have a great future ahead of us in South Carolina," she says.

On the last day of school in Lexington-Richland District Five, the students are getting ready for some rest and relaxation.
    
But that won't be the case at the district office, according to district spokesman Buddy Price.

"We're excited first of all that the funds will be coming to us after all," says Price.
    
That's because $4.4 million that was to be cut out of the district's budget will now be restored by federal stimulus funds. Officials with the district plan to spend the weekend figuring out how to use the stimulus money.

"Our concern was that the educational environment was going to be impacted by those cuts," says Price.
    
According to information provided by the district, without the dollars, Lexington-Richland 5 would have had to cut about $3.5 million out of the budget, about 86 full-time employees. There were also plans for more furloughs and cuts to annual leave, resulting in another $1 million in cuts.
   
But now the big question the district plans to work on is what positions to restore and where.

"The cuts we were looking at were really a broad look at our district with just about every facet of the district being impacted from our classrooms to the cafeterias, so we'll be taking a look at each one of those. So what we'll be doing is looking at each one of those individually, and determining which cuts to restore at this time," says Price.
    
Price says the school board plans to begin making official decisions at their meeting on Monday.

"In Richland 1 and the surrounding districts, we're all fighting for our lives right now," Richland 1 Superintendent Dr. Percy Mack told us back in April.  

At the time, Richland 1 was looking at a possible shortfall of $17 million. With the stimulus money now coming to the district, the shortfall is now $13 million. Dr. Mack says that $4 million helps drastically.

"We don't have to go deeper into our cuts with personnel. We can take some of those funds and continue to move forward with purchasing our technology needs, and stabilize our class size," says Mack.
   
We also checked in with a rural school district, Clarendon District 1. According to Superintendent Dr. Rose Wilder, twelve employees who would have been let go will get to keep their jobs, but at a 20 percent pay cut.

All of the school districts we talked to say the money is being used to shore up budget cuts. They're not using any of it to start new programs.
    
In Richland 1, the school board still has some tough decisions to make.

"Our major budgets are still centered around personnel. So if you have to reduce budgets in a school district, personnel is where you have to go," says Mack.

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