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Horry County Schools to tackle budget

The Horry County Board of Education is facing some tough decisions, including potentially cutting $3.8 million worth of positions.

Tonight's meeting could see debates getting personal, Superintendent Cindy Elsberry said, as board members wrestle with ways to save money, even as they discuss the possibility of a new elementary school for Carolina Forest.

Board members have had a week to eye the budget, which was presented at a specially called meeting April 12.

"I anticipate many questions and a lot of comments on the direction the staff is taking the budget," Elsberry said. She said board input will help staff members over the next few weeks as they put together "a budget [the board] can live with and that they feel is the best use of taxpayers' money."

The preliminary budget proposes cutting expenses by $7,224,427 - including a cut in positions totaling $3,786,123 - in a year that conservatively can be called tough. Local funding is projected to be down $4 million, with a $12 million loss in state funding. The district will have $13 million in stabilization funds to help balance the budget, but that is one-time federal money.

Elsberry said the district has about 300 positions that become vacant each year through attrition.

"We'll try our best to secure a position for every staff member we have now," barring any performance issues, Elsberry said.

Board members also will entertain a recommendation to purchase 40 acres in the Berkshire Village development of Carolina Forest for a new elementary school at a price not to exceed $750,000.

Teal Britton, spokeswoman for HCS, said that when Carolina Forest was still just woods, on the books, there were 40,000 to 50,000 single-family homes projected for the area.

"Carolina Forest has been the poster child for growing pains," Britton said. "We knew long term we would need schools in that area, and we have been trying to keep up with the growth."

Elsberry said she looked at seven possible sites in the attendance area, and it came down to two - the Berkshire site and one at Tuscany, but she's recommending the Berkshire site because of its location. She said it's important that the new school not be close to the existing elementary schools.

Development estimates for the Tuscany project stand at $1,422,528, according to DN Engineering Inc., while the estimate for the Berkshire site is $1,961,390, although it could rise to $2,331,390, depending on the need for earthquake drains and county impact fees.

"I expect there will be some pretty lively discussion [at the meeting], and there should be," Elsberry said. "We want to ensure we're selecting the best site."