Beaufort News

SC Education Department has cut 50 jobs in restructuring; other agencies also planning cuts

About 50 state Department of Education employees have left or been laid off since May, and more changes could be on the way as part of a restructuring.

Superintendent of Education Mick Zais, the first Republican to hold the post since 1998, is evaluating and overhauling the department and consolidating two of its five divisions.

"It's part of an ongoing restructuring to make the agency more efficient," said Jay Ragley, Zais' spokesman. "And we also have a 15 percent agency reduction we're dealing with. We hope to finish restructuring by the end of the year."

Those 50 employees represent nearly 13 percent of the agency's non-transportation employees. Their jobs ranged from administrative assistants to office directors to deputy superintendents.

A breakdown of employee positions by division was not available Wednesday.

The state Department of Education is not the only state agency laying off workers.

Since June 1, seven other state agencies have announced they will reduce their work forces, including the Department of Archives and History, the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, the S.C. Commission for the Blind and the University of South Carolina, according to the State Budget and Control Board.

The number of employees affected by the cuts is unknown at this time, said Lindsey Kremlick, spokeswoman for the budget board.

The changes at the Education Department have some worried.

"We're very concerned that personnel in the Office of School Safety are gone," said Molly Spearman, director of the S.C. Association of School Administrators. "That affects mentoring, character education, bullying prevention, federal rules to make sure homeless students are being taken care of."

Ragley said the functions of the department will not be impacted by the cuts.

"The work is still going to get done," he said. "The responsibilities have been added on to other people's jobs."

Debbie Elmore, spokeswoman for the S.C. School Boards Association, said her organization wished the department had done a better job of communicating news of the changes to school districts.

"It's not unexpected for personnel and other changes to occur anytime there is a change in leadership," Elmore said. "However, what has been disappointing is the department's lack of transparency and communication about the state superintendent's ongoing restructuring plan, personnel changes, and more importantly, how they may or may not impact support services to districts and schools."

Additional changes also could be on the way for the agency's 456 transportation employees, including mechanics in bus maintenance shops and supervisors who oversee the bus operation.

Zais and Gov. Nikki Haley are exploring privatizing school bus operations. That means mechanics could become employees of private companies instead of the state.