The general operating budget for Charleston County schools likely will grow more than $23 million for the 2013-14 school year, but district officials say that’s not enough to cover some of their needs.
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Charleston County School District officials are hosting public hearings on the proposed 2013-14 budget this week.The meetings will start at 6:30 p.m. and will be held:Tonight at Burke High School cafeteria.Thursday at Cario Middle School cafeteria.
They plan to talk with the county school board during the coming weeks about possibly raising taxes to cover costs. It’s unclear how much taxes would be increased, but it could be anywhere from $18 to $30 more on a $100,000 property assessed at 6 percent. And doing so could generate up to $10 million.
“We are in a strong financial position,” said Mike Bobby, the district’s chief of finance, operations and human resources. “However, I do believe we’re going to have to seriously look at trying to raise some additional revenue.”
The $357 million budget is projected to grow 6.4 percent to $380 million, which would be slightly less than this year’s 6.8 percent increase.
Budget discussions will take center stage, and raising taxes might be a hard sell with the county school board. The district hasn’t had a comprehensive discussion about the budget with the full board yet. Chairwoman Cindy Bohn Coats said the board isn’t interested in raising taxes, and members first would want to talk about reprioritizing existing funds.
“Our entire focus would be the reduction of expenses before increasing revenue,” she said. “We have a lot of desires, so board members are going to have to sit down and equate that to dollars and figure out where our priorities lay.”
The proposed budget includes a step increase, or additional pay for an additional year of experience, for all employees, but it does not include a cost of living adjustment. The step alone costs $3.5 million, and adding a 3 percent cost of living increase would cost an additional $6.5 million.
Bobby said pay for employees is one of the items the district will discuss with the board in coming weeks, and that’s one reason it might need to consider a tax hike.
Without a tax increase, the district’s revenue still will grow. It’ll see $2 million more in tax collections from Boeing, as well as $4 million more from the expired TIF district involving King Street. The district also has proposed using $10 million of its roughly $40 million rainy day fund to balance the budget.
The new expenses are many, but none would grow the district’s literacy academies, which have been a top priority for the past few years. Coats said she found it hard to believe extra dollars for those efforts weren’t in the proposed budget.
Some of the new spending increases already have been endorsed by the board, such as $3.4 million for teacher training on the new Common Core State Standards and $1 million for longer school years at four struggling schools. Lowcountry Tech on the former Rivers Middle campus would get $1 million more, and five more pre-kindergarten classes would be added at a cost of $580,000.
Sequestration likely will be the source of the biggest cuts to schools. The sequester is about $1 trillion in automatic, across the board budget cuts that went into effect March 1 because Congress hasn’t been able to reach a compromise on a plan to reduce the nation’s deficit by $4 trillion.
District officials have been told to expect a 10 to 15 percent reduction in money for high-poverty schools. That could amount to a $2.2 million reduction, which would mean fewer instructional coaches and less money for school-wide programs. Bobby said the board could opt to replace some of that money with local and state dollars.
Board member John Barter, who often supports the district’s recommendations, said he expected the board to challenge moving beyond the $380 million mark. Still, if the board has “worked the budget hard” and still is missing important programs, raising taxes could be a consideration.
“The hard work is still in front of us,” he said.
Board member Todd Garrett said he could foresee no reason for the board to raise taxes, and he wouldn’t vote to do so.
The board will have two readings on the budget, both of which are scheduled to happen in June.
Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or 937-5546.
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