Aiken Co. schools to cut 120 jobs

The Aiken County Board of Education has agreed to eliminate 120 plus positions -- just one component in more than $9 million in cuts for 2009-10.

Superintendent Dr. Beth Everitt said specific positions have yet to finalized.

Retirees -- both administrators and teachers -- who continue to work for the district -- are also at risk of losing their jobs.

The board also approved cuts to eliminate 21 district/department-level positions.

The district is increasing its student//teacher ratio at all grade levels, which could mean the elimination of 90 teaching positions eliminated at all schools. Certified teachers who are displaced will get the first opportunity to move into positions due to vacancies or new retirements. Certified retirees will only be rehired based on district needs and driver's education programs will also be cut, said Everitt.

The district also will cut $150,000 from middle and/or high school athletic budgets, about 20 percent of the total. Again, Everitt said the details of those cuts have not been finalized.

The International Baccalaureate program at North Augusta High School and Aiken High School will be eliminated, saving $400,000.

The school board almost certainly will have to identify additional cuts before the budget is approved in June.

Shortly before the School Board went into closed session to discuss painful budget cuts Tuesday, Doody Snyder couldn't keep the tears from her eyes.

For the past 31 years she has taught U.S. history at North Augusta High School and serves as the social studies chair. When she retired after 30 years, she was immediately rehired by the district.

Now Snyder is worried about her job status as the Aiken School District and others throughout the state face their most serious budget crisis in memory. If the worst happens, she said, she'll find something.

"But my whole life has been dedicated to that school," Snyder said. "I graduated from there and my parents too. It's been wonderful and I'm teaching the children of former students. Everywhere I go, I see my students."

The challenge, said School Board Chair Dr. Christine Harkins, is do the least in-structional damage to the schools.

"Our primary focus has got to be the students and instruction," she said. "The higher salaries of retirees is a factor."

Legislation has been introduced in the S.C. General Assembly that would allow districts to renegotiate their salaries.

"If that's an option, I would renegotiate," said Snyder. "It's not the money. This is what I do and I love every day of it. But I'm not optimistic. I know how deep the cuts are going to go."

North Augusta High currently has 10 retirees on staff, including one counselor and the International Baccalaureate program coordinator, said principal Kyle Smith. Four of the eight teachers are department chairs.

"It's an extraordinary financial time and I don't envy the board's position right now," he said.

But those 10 educators are an integral part of the school, and some have been there for up to 40 years, Smith said.

"Some have been aware that tough decisions were coming," he said. "But they continue to stay late and work hard. It's a testament to the quality people they are."

Rod Greenway, the Belvedere Elementary School principal, is one of five principals who continued working after retirement. He addressed School Board members about the importance of all retirees.

"Some of our best folks are retirees," Greenway said. "I don't want this to be the last year. Our parents know we protect and lead our kids. My responsibility is to motivate my schools. I know you're having a time now, but on behalf of the retirees, please don't punish us because we're retirees. Give us a break and let us continue."

-- Aiken Standard, McClatchy-Tribune Regional News