More money for pre-kindergarten classes and schools with high student enrollment could be among the Charleston County School Board’s spending priorities for the proposed 2013-14 school year budget.
Those were among the areas discussed before the board unanimously signed off on the first reading of its budgets Monday night. That approval doesn’t commit the board to any spending or prohibit it from making changes before second and final reading June 24.
School Board Chairwoman Cindy Bohn Coats said it’s still too early to say whether the board would support a tax increase for its general operating fund budget, which pays teachers’ salaries and classroom expenses. Without a tax increase, that budget will grow from $357 million to $382.3 million, and the district administration wants up to $10 million more to cover its proposals.
“I haven’t wrapped my heard around the $382 million yet,” Coats said. “I’m trying to figure out why it’s at that number, and I’m not even ready to have a discussion about why it should be $392 million.”
The tax increase wouldn’t affect taxes on owner-occupied homes, which were replaced with a statewide sales tax. Business, second-home and rental property owners would pay about $30 more per year, which would total $633 for a property with an assessed value of $100,000. Coats said she’s hearing from some residents who say taxes need to be increased, while others say the opposite.
District officials said the tax increase would go toward: providing computer lab teachers to elementary schools, planning funds to offer a middle school sports program in 2014-15, providing $1 million to be divided among large schools, growing early childhood education classes, and giving schools more discretionary funds for support positions.
The board spent about half of the nearly four hour meeting talking about the budget. They asked specifically for proposals of what could be cut, and district officials promised to evaluate its programs and return with recommendations on their least effective expenditures.
One of the areas that seemed to catch the board’s attention Monday was increasing funding for large schools. The district has proposed giving large schools, such as those in the Park West neighborhood, more because its teacher allocation formula results in higher student to teacher ratios in those schools. More than a dozen residents spoke to the board in support of that issue, especially at schools such as Wando High and West Ashley High.
“The children at the large schools are being short-changed,” parent Edward Potter, who has two daughters in Park West schools, told the board. “We’re doing very well on our campus ... and that should not be penalized by inequitable funding.”
In other business, the board:
- approved hiring Deborah Smith as principal of Mitchell Elementary School;
- approved a new partnership between East Cooper Montessori Charter School and the district, enabling the charter school to use the former Laing Middle school building; and
- delayed action on offering the International Baccalaureate program at Memminger Elementary. The board will reconsider the issue later this month.
Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or (843) 937-5546.