SUMMERVILLE -- When Sarah Nunn's young son attends Knightsville Elementary School next year, she wants his teacher to be in the classroom everyday, not out on a furlough days.
Nunn attended Dorchester District 2's public budget hearing at Knightsville Elementary today, along with a few other parents and a few dozen school district employees. She wanted more information on next year's budget. And she wanted to make sure the district wasn't cutting too many teachers.
"I think teachers are the most important thing," Nunn said. "Teacher furloughs really bother me."
Nunn won't have to worry about teacher furloughs next year because the school district will have enough money to begin bringing back things it cut over the past three years, said Allyson Duke, the district's chief financial officer.
The district expects to bring in $136 million for the 2011-12 school year, though that number isn't final until the state Legislature passes the budget in June. That means that after it covers expenses at this year's level, it likely will have about $5.4 million to begin making up for the drastic cuts.
School district officials will present the budget to Dorchester County Council for approval May 16.
The district would need an additional $25 million to get back to where it was three years ago, Duke said.
District officials met with four groups to gather input on what is most important to restore, Duke said. The groups consisted of administrators, principals, school-level employees and parents. All of them chose the same top three priorities: hiring 35 teachers to maintain current class sizes; giving all employees a 2 percent pay increase; and hiring another 10 teachers to compensate for enrollment growth. Those three expenses would cost about $5.1 million, Duke said.
Susan Overstreet, an English teacher at Ashley Ridge High School, told Superintendent Joe Pye, who also attended the meeting, that high school teachers desperately need relief. They have been teaching six classes each day, instead of five, to compensate for reduced school budgets, she said.
Her workload is so overwhelming that she has taken personal time off so she could grade papers and do other work at home. "People just can't get it done during work hours," she said.
And high school performance is important, she said. For instance, the district is judged on criteria such as the percentage of students who graduate from high school and the average score students earn on the SAT, she said.
Reducing high school teaching loads, which would cost about $2.4 million, is not one of the top three priorities, Overstreet said. "It's not even in the top 10."
Pye said he knows how hard high school staffers have been working. "Our needs are great and this is a drop in the bucket," he said of the $5 million available. Today's proposal was not a "full-recovery budget," he said.
But he was encouraged that all of the groups with which district leaders consulted placed employee concerns as the top three priorities. All of the groups said, "Let's take care of the people who took care of us."