The Charleston County school board approved a final budget for the 2014-2015 school year Monday that includes $22 million more in spending.
The board approved a total general operating budget of $404 million, up from $382 million last school year. The district had been faced with a $6 million funding gap between its initial spending plan of $407.5 million and projected revenues of $401.5 million.
To cover the gap, Michael Bobby, the district's chief financial officer, reduced the proposed budget by $3.5 million and the board allocated $7.4 million instead of $5 million from the district's $ 42 million rainy day fund. The budget does not include a property tax increase.
The driving factor in the rising expenses is $11.6 million tied to employee pay. Plans include funding a step increase, or additional pay for an additional year of experience, at a cost of $3.1 million and the partial implementation of a new salary study at a cost of $$8.5 million that will boost pay for some employees based on market pay for similar positions in other school districts or the private sector.
The largest savings was a reduction of $1.6 million tied to a plan to start the school day earlier at five low-income middle schools. The school board voted Monday to postpone those early starts and take a more comprehensive look at the issue district wide.
Starting earlier would affect bus transportation. The district doesn't have enough buses, and administrators are considering other options like combining routes for middle and high school students or adjusting the timing of bus routes.
Superintendent Nancy McGinley said she would like to try to find an interim solution for next school year for the middle schools while the district study's the issue further. A new proposal will come before the school board later this summer.
In a separate action, the school board approved a plan to extend two tax increment financing, or TIF, districts in the City of Charleston. The board voted to extend a TIF district for a development plan called Magnolia along Charleston's Neck Area for ten years from 2033 to 2043 but opted to go with a five-year extension from 2033 to 2038 for a TIF district associated with the Horizon Redevelopment Project, between Lockwood Drive and Hagood Avenue, and from Spring Street to Fishburne Street.
In each extension, the school district will forgo property tax revenues created by the developments until the TIF districts expire. The diverted funds will be used to finance work in the development areas, such as new roads or sidewalks.
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