Dorchester District 2's financial picture for next year might not look good, but it's a lot better than it was this year, district officials said.
Allyson Duke, the district's chief financial officer, told a handful of parents and a smattering of school district employees at a public-input session Wednesday at Fort Dorchester High School that the district expects to bring in $136 million in the 2011-12 school year.
That means that after it covers expenses at this year's level, it will have $5 million to begin making up for the drastic cuts it had to make over the past three years.
"I feel we hit the bottom this year," Duke said. But it will take a while to slowly return district services to their former levels. The district would need an additional $25 million to get back to where it was three years ago, she said.
Duke told those gathered that the district would like input from the public in the coming weeks about what to restore.
Gina Brewer, a parent of two Summerville High School students, said when she and her family moved to the area from another state about three years ago, they chose to live in Summerville because of the schools.
She said she came to learn more about budget process. And one area she's concerned about is the high school arts programs. "It seems the first place they cut is the arts," she said of school districts. She also would like to know what percentage of the budget goes to the arts versus what percentage goes to sports.
Frannie Brower, another Summerville High parent, said she is concerned about academic programs and services, such as tutoring and Advanced Placement classes.
Duke said that to save money over the past three years, the district stopped all pay increases, required employees to take unpaid furlough days and didn't replace teachers who left, despite growing student enrollment.
Superintendent Joe Pye said he favors giving employees at least a slight pay increase. "We have to treat employees right," he said. He also said the district's high schools have suffered disproportionately in recent years.
The district wants to hear from the public about priorities, he said. District officials have given the public a big laundry list. "We're asking you what we should take to the cleaners."