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February 27, 2003

Furloughs mandated for some state agency employees

From: Columbia State, SC - 27 Feb 2003

Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. - The South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind will use spring break to furlough all employees to deal with the latest round of budget cuts and avoid interrupting students' class time.

The school had asked students to wear jackets to class during the winter, use both sides of paper for assignments and turn off computers as soon as schoolwork is complete to deal with funding shortfalls.

But the school had to take a more drastic approach to the 3.7 percent cut issued for all state agencies earlier this month. School officials expect to save about $290,000 with the five-day furlough, which will be spread across five pay periods.

"It's very hard when you come down to cutting pay for the people in the trenches working with the students, but at the same time it's a sacrifice we make willingly because of the nature of our jobs," said Linda Coon, who teaches third grade at the school's Palmetto Achievement Academy.

Mandatory furloughs have helped other state agencies with the budget crunch.

South Carolina State University responded to midyear cuts with 15 days of furloughs for its 1,200 employees.

Five of those days must be during spring break. Employees must take their remaining unpaid days by May 15.

The state Department of Juvenile Justice has required its employees to take six days without pay to help with cuts.

The DJJ furlough, which is expected to end in June, will help the agency save about $1 million of its $3.7 million shortfall, spokeswoman Loretta Neal said Wednesday.

The department's 1,500 employees were notified by e-mail and through supervisors about the unpaid time off, Neal said. The furlough is effective immediately, she said.

Jon Ozmint, new director at the Corrections Department, is considering mandatory furloughs as his agency expects to run a deficit this year as much as $24 million, said prisons spokeswoman Cheryl Bates-Lee.

For the past two years, the department has offered voluntary furloughs, Bates-Lee said. "You give up your pay, but in the long run it just means you get to keep your job," she said.

At the School for the Deaf and Blind, which relies totally on state funding, the five unpaid days off the school's 370 employees only cover part of the shortfall, said school President Sheila Breitweiser.

School officials are banking on about $112,000 in Medicaid reimbursements to help with the current cuts and $125,000 was taken from a reserve fund.

That leaves the school with about $13,000 to deal with any new crisis until the end of the fiscal year, she said.

Breitweiser, who leads a group of state agency heads, has been traveling around South Carolina to introduce legislators to students in their districts so they connect a face with budgetary requests her school has made. Her strategy is not new, she's just never approached it with "the degree of desperation," she said.

© 2003 AP Wire and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.