So Charleston County schools want to raise your taxes.
Meanwhile, Berkeley County schools may need a tax increase to stay out of the red.
And a lot of people are worried that the Dorchester County schools will ask for more money this year too.
Apparently, it costs a lot to run a school district these days. But these school officials shouldn't expect a warm reception, or much sympathy, from the public. And that's not just because folks around here don't cotton to new taxes.
A lot of people believe this is getting a little ridiculous.
Charleston County has the toughest argument to make — because even without a tax increase, the schools' budget will grow by $23 million. Most companies would by happy with 6.6 percent growth.
Berkeley County schools are facing a potential $8.8 million shortfall, which makes their case a little stronger. But they are going to have to explain very clearly that last year's building bond referendum is a different pot of money. A lot of people just see the potential for their taxes to go up two years in a row.
Places to cut?
The Charleston County School Board has put the brakes on the district's tax talk — for now.
So the members are doing their jobs. Fact is, many feel the district has not yet made a strong case for needing more money beyond the additional $23 million it will get from tax revenues this year. Some board members want to know what the district has done to trim costs in other areas.
Board members will begin looking at the budget Monday, and they hope to get a better understanding of the pressures on the budget. There are programs that could stand to be expanded. But are there others that could be cut? It's a tough call.
“I assume the board is thinking a tax increase would require substantial justification,” board member John Barter says.
Charleston schools officials say some of the need for extra money is to give employees cost-of-living raises. No doubt the teachers deserve them.
But telling working folks who aren't seeing raises themselves that they have to pony up for someone else's salary is not real good politics.
Berkeley County is talking about making up some of its shortfall with a $25 per student technology fee.
That limits the pain to people with kids in school, but calling it a fee is misleading.
Fee, after all, is the Latin word for tax.
School districts are certainly expensive propositions. A huge chunk of their budgets go to salaries, and they have to run dozens of facilities. The Charleston County School District has a $380 million budget and serves 45,000 students.
By contrast, the entire city of Charleston's budget is only $160 million — and that's for a government that serves about 123,000 people.
The economy may be showing promising signs of life, but the best tactic for both these school districts is probably to look real hard at places to cut.
In Charleston's case, particularly, raising taxes right now might make it harder to do down that road.
You know, when it's actually in trouble.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org