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Greenwood schools’ income down, expenses up

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Students and federal funding that helped pay for employees, Greenwood schools didn’t collect enough money to pay its bills last year.

The school district was short about $440,000 from what was collected in state funding, and what was needed to pay all teachers’ salaries and insurance benefits in 2013. That’s just under 2 percent of the amount budgeted for the cost of Greenwood’s employees, director of fiscal services Todd Pritchett said.

Last year, the school district could use some of its nearly $1.6 million in savings to make up for the shortfall.

But officials don’t want to continue draining savings in the future. So now, they’re looking for ways to attract new students to Greenwood, which would bring in more money for employees and programs, Pritchett said.

Schools are funded by the state based on the number of students they have, and every student who attends Greenwood schools equals about $5,600. Last fall Greenwood had 90 fewer students at its schools, and another 60 students had left by February.

Since 2010, Greenwood had also been using federal stimulus money to help cover the costs of employees when the recession was at its worst. That money is now gone, but the loss of the students is the main reason for the funding gap, Pritchett said.

Greenwood isn’t considering reducing staff, but anytime an employee retires or resigns school officials will evaluate whether they can afford to fill the position, Pritchett said.

“It’s not a situation of urgency,” Pritchett said. “But it is an issue in our general fund that we do have to address, and make adjustments moving forward.”

Most of the students who left Greenwood schools lived on the northeast side of the city and attended Northeast Elementary, Greenwood Middle School or Greenwood Community High School.

Attendance at Southwest and Westwood Elementary schools has been relatively unchanged, Pritchett said. Greenwood has nearly completed construction projects that added classroom space at the two elementary schools, neither of which had room for additional students. Greenwood borrowed about $3.2 million for the two construction projects. Funds that the school district uses to repay its debts, to renovate or upgrade buildings and that pay for transportation costs and new buses are paid for with property taxes and aren’t affected by Greenwood having fewer students, Pritchett said.

About 66 percent, or $23.5 million, of Greenwood’s total $35.7 million budget is paid for with state funding. Most of that pays for the cost of employees.

School officials are still trying to find out why so many students have left Greenwood and how to attract some of them back.

One hope is that reversing the school district’s transfer policy will solve part of the problem. Until this school year Greenwood typically had 100 families interested in transferring to the school district, but school officials decided to block transfers after state lawmakers passed a law prohibiting school districts from not accepting students who didn’t meet their academic standards.

Opening Greenwood back up to transfer students could mean more than $500,000 in state funding if 100 new families are still interested in attending the school district each year, Superintendent Kent DeKoninck has said.

DeKoninck has also been working with Greenwood’s principals since the summer to see which open positions the school district needs to fill.

When a teacher resigns or retires, school officials study whether they have to fill the position, or whether the school can continue that class without hiring someone new. Even if the school district does hire another employee, that person may have fewer years of experience, and therefore his or her salary would be lower, Pritchett said.

“We’re just looking at everything we do, how can we be more efficient,” Pritchett said.

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