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March 4, 2003

School districts could furlough staff

From: Columbia State, SC - 04 Mar 2003

Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. - Teachers and school support staff could be forced to take unpaid leaves of as much as five days to help school districts balance their budgets, under a resolution given key approval in the House on Tuesday.

Under the House resolution, which still needs a standard third reading, school districts suffering from year-end deficits that have exhausted all other means of making ends meet should be able furlough district employees.

The Senate approved a similar resolution last week. The resolutions are intended to help schools suffering from budget cuts make it through the rest of this fiscal year.

Teachers don't necessarily like the furloughs, but they are a last resort and better than the alternative, said Kathy Maness, director of association activities at the Palmetto State Teacher's Association.

"A furlough for a couple of days could prevent one of my teachers from losing their paycheck or insurance," Maness said.

The South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind already has decided to use spring break to furlough all employees to help with the latest round of budget cuts and avoid interrupting class time.

School officials expect to save about $290,000 with the five-day furlough, which will be spread across five pay periods.

"They're willing to give up five days of their pay, and they're not fussing and fighting and fuming that they can't make it," said Rep. Bob Walker, R-Landrum. "These people don't get paid the high salaries that some people in our state make, and they're willing to give it up."

Under the resolution, teachers and other support staff cannot be furloughed more than five days - and no more than two of those may be instructional days. District and school administrators may be furloughed up to 10 days.

Lawmakers said they wanted to avoid cutting as many school days as possible. The resolution calls for furloughs to be taken first on in-service days. Furloughs can be done on instructional days only "if absolutely necessary," according to the resolution.

The resolution intends to have furloughs implemented as a last option. It also gives districts total flexibility with their operational dollars, meaning they can move money from one program to another.

But House Minority Leader James Smith, who voted against the bill, said the bill has nothing to do with flexibility.

"It's a simple decision to furlough," Smith, D-Columbia, said of the resolution. "I can think of few other more fundamentally important areas for state government to fund - kids getting taught in the classroom."

Smith said lawmakers should find other places in the budget to save money, rather than resorting to cutting educational days and teacher pay.

"We have seen in the past this place move mountains to find money for economic development," he said.

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