Mandated cutbacks mean tough decisions

The first Friday in February came with some bad news for the Swain County School District and systems around the state. Word came from Raleigh that school budgets would be cut by 7 percent in the upcoming fiscal year.

The Swain school system already trimmed costs by $75,000 in December when the state called on schools statewide to send back a small percent of their current budgets. Schools were bracing for more cutbacks , but didn’t know how much.

“In the beginning, they were saying between 2 and 7 percent, but realistically around 4 percent,” said Steve Claxton, community schools coordinator. “Now they’re saying no, it’s looking more drastic than we first projected.”

A worst case scenario could call for 7 percent budget cut, which would amount to $952,000. While the exact amount won’t be known for some time, administrators are bracing for some tough decisions.

“We’re going to take a pretty serious cut. That’s plain and simple,” said Claxton. “Everybody knows that. The revenues just aren’t there.”

Layoffs are now a very real possibility, and likely a necessity. Hopefully the school system can achieve a workforce reduction through attrition. For the past two years, between 15 and 17 teachers retired at the end of the school year. If the same scenario happened this year, the school could chose not to fill vacancies and naturally reduce the number of paid positions. But that won’t be the case.

“We don’t have those numbers this year, so it’s really concerning us,” said Claxton. “This year we’re looking at people if they even are qualified to retire.”

The school also loses a certain number of teachers every year who move to other counties. But if there aren’t enough teachers in that category, the school may have to broaden its scope, he said.

Talk of layoffs has caused a cloud to hang over the schools.

“It’s creating a real feeling of uneasiness,” said Claxton.

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