SUMTER SCHOOL DISTRICT

Chair: 'Let closing schools be our last resort'

McGhaney says issue 'very sensitive;' board wants all other options considered 1st

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Sumter School Board's chairman said he and the majority of board members are against closing any schools as a cost-cutting measure from next year's budget, and the board has tasked Superintendent Frank Baker with looking at other alternatives first.

Chairman the Rev. Daryl McGhaney made the comments Wednesday in preparation for the board's finance committee meeting on Friday. At that meeting, financial consultant Scott Allan plans to discuss with the committee cutting additional expenditures from the 2017-18 budget. The committee consists of four local private-business leaders and three board members.

At the last school board meeting, April 3, Allan outlined his analysis and the district's plan to eliminate 86 classroom teachers and related instructional staff as part of a 2017-18 preliminary budget presentation. He also previewed areas outside the classroom that he planned to make recommendations for cuts for next fiscal year, which begins July 1. Those included the impact of school closings, cutting district office positions and freezing all non-teaching staff salaries and stipend increases.

"I believe Mr. Allan will give us an update in those areas," McGhaney said. "He may give us an update on schools' closing; however, that's a very sensitive issue of items to discuss. The board has asked Dr. Baker to look at other alternatives in lieu of closing schools."

McGhaney and the board asked the superintendent to look at attendance lines and any other measure, besides closing schools, for cost-savings.

The chairman did say the board understands it may have to consider consolidation of schools at some point.

"The board understands it may have to go that route," McGhaney said Wednesday. "Right now, that is a very sensitive issue. We understand we are going to have to face that obstacle soon. However, before we face that option, we tasked the superintendent to look at other alternatives. Let closing schools be our last option, our last resort."

The school board hired Allan in January to guide the district through its current financial crisis. In December, the release of the 2015-16 audit report showed the district had overspent by $6.2 million in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016.

On a related matter, McGhaney said Allan will also provide an update on the chief financial officer search to the finance committee on Friday. A job description and listing was posted online in the last couple of weeks, according to McGhaney, and Allan has been charged with leading the search process.

Similar to all the district's official meetings, Friday's finance committee meeting is open to the public. The meeting is set to begin at noon at the district office, 1345 Wilson Hall Road.

MORE ON THE CLASSROOM CUTS

At the April 3 board meeting, Allan revealed in his preliminary 2017-18 budget update presentation to the board of trustees that the district plans to eliminate 86 full-time equivalent classroom teachers and related instructional staff, to include para professionals and behavior and academic interventionists. According to district data, those 86 positions represent 5.7 percent of the district's total instructional staff of 1,521 FTE's.