Charleston schools face $18M shortfall

Chief Financial Officer Michael Bobby

BY DEANNA PAN and ADAM PARKER

dpan@postandcourier.com aparker@postandcourier.com

The Charleston County School District faces an $18 million shortfall after overestimating property-tax revenues and miscalculating payroll costs, board members and district officials said Thursday.

“We do not yet have all the facts, details and analyses needed, but based on information we received last week, it appears CCSD must reduce our current year’s budget by several million dollars,” the district said in a statement. “At this time we do not anticipate staff layoffs or furloughs.”

District officials were quick to assure employees and residents that the shortfall would not affect educational programs or services. But board member Chris Collins blamed the error, in part, on Chief Financial Officer Michael Bobby having been overloaded with wide-ranging responsibilities.

“One reason I think we had this big error or huge mistake is that the person that’s over the budget and the finances, he’s got too much to do, too much responsibility,” Collins said. “He’s conducting the bus services. He’s conducting the maintenance workers. He’s been conducting payroll. He’s been conducting the capital buildings plan. He’s over construction. He’s over procurement. He’s been involved with Head Start financials. I could go on and on. He’s basically involved in every single area of the district, all over the map.”

On Monday, school board members met in executive session with Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait, where they discussed narrowing the scope of Bobby’s responsibilities, Collins said.

Bobby declined to comment Thursday when reached by The Post and Courier. He will meet with the Audit and Finance Committee next Monday to discuss the shortfall and how to prevent similar oversights in the future.

“Obviously, we’re going to have to take a very, very close look at projections in this year’s budget now to ensure we’re on track and everything is where it needs to be,” board Chairwoman Cindy Bohn Coats said. “We gotta figure out what happened last year.”

The board learned last week that tax revenues were insufficient to cover the $806 million 2014-15 budget, leaving the district with a shortfall of $4 million going into the new school year that began in August. The district also had expenses that exceeded its budget by $14 million as a result of a payroll miscalculation.

Effective immediately, the district will implement a hiring freeze, cut travel and “look for ways to reduce spending across the board, including asking certified district staff to fill in where we have classroom vacancies,” according to the district’s statement. CCSD also is forming a committee of teachers, support staff, parents and business leaders to make budget reduction recommendations.

Board member Todd Garrett said the shortfall won’t affect this year’s teacher or principal pay raises.

“In the context of our budget, it’s a rounding error,” he said.

The district will dip into its reserve fund to cover the shortfall, Garrett said. The reserve account currently has about $50 million.

“This isn’t just an overspending issue; this is a revenue issue,” said Coats. “We are researching as to why and I think no board member could adequately explain how this happened until they know the details.”

Garrett said that, as chairman of the board’s audit and finance committee, he accepts some of the blame for the budget error. The committee reviews the annual budget and recommends action to the full board.

Reach Deanna Pan at (843) 937-5764. Reach Adam Parker at (843) 937-5902.