The Charleston County School District is looking to ramp up security, boost teacher salaries and keep up with new mandates from state government — and it’s going to cost taxpayers.
District officials have proposed a local tax hike that would increase the tax bill on a $10,000 vehicle by $2.38 as part of the district's 2018-19 budget.
The owner of a $100,000 commercial property could expect to pay an additional $23.76. Because of the state's Act 388, the tax increase, if approved, would not affect owner-occupied homes.
The district's proposed operating budget for the 2018-19 school year is $507.7 million, a 6.8-percent increase from the current year's budget, according to Chief Financial and Administrative Officer Donald Kennedy.
The School Board is expected to vote on the spending plan Monday, when it meets at 5:15 p.m. at 75 Calhoun St.
The $32.3 million increase in spending includes $11.7 million to pay for state-mandated increases for teacher salaries, retirement contributions and health insurance costs.
Other spending increases stemmed from local decisions, including some high-profile items that the school board already approved. Some of these items include:
- $7.5 million for increased charter school payments, which are calculated using a per-pupil funding formula that involves local revenue figures. The district currently sponsors 10 charter schools with a combined 4,458 students.
- $3.9 million for annual pay hikes and cost-of-living increases for non-teaching staff.
- $2.7 million for ramping up the teacher salary scale, part of a three-year plan that will boost pay for all teachers and bring the baseline teacher salary up to $40,000 — the highest in the state.
- $2.8 million to add fifth grade and other expenses at Meeting Street Elementary @Brentwood.
- $2.3 million for security initiatives, including school resource officers in all elementary schools, a district search team and an emergency planner.
- $1.4 million to increase the salary scale for math teachers at 16 high-poverty schools by about $9,000.
- $1.1 million to add a 10th grade and meet other expenses at Early College High School.
- $1.1 million for bus aides to supervise profoundly handicapped students on school buses.
- $344,000 for an increase in the transportation contract with Durham School Services.
- $174,000 for two new strings teachers, between-school travel and equipment repair.
When the proposed budget first came up for a vote last month, board members Michael Miller and the Rev. Chris Collins cast the only dissenting votes.
Collins expressed concern about a lack of detail in the first draft, requesting a more in-depth document than the 33-page outline given to the board. Previous budget plans contained more details, such as the 130-page first draft in 2012.
Collins said Thursday he still has not seen the amount of detail he wants, particularly after the board took some blame for not catching an $18 million shortfall in 2015. He also wondered if there were more expenses that could be cut, particularly at the district office.
"I’m just afraid that there’s a lot of fat on that budget that we can trim still," he said.
The 2015 budget crisis led to changes in the district's budgeting approach. Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait committed to shift the district from incremental budgeting to "zero-based" budgeting, where every line of a budget must be justified, by 2018.
Kennedy, who recently took over from Chief Financial Officer Glenn Stiegman, said the district hasn't made the transition completely — in part because of turnover in the finance office. But Kennedy said the district did a thorough analysis of every position and expenditure within its Learning Services Department this year.
"We didn’t start with a blank sheet of paper, but we looked at every single cost and we made some adjustments based on that," he said.
The first draft of the budget showed expenditures exceeding revenues by $18.5 million, but Kennedy said that will drop to $10.4 million in the version presented to the board Monday. He also has a plan to close that gap, pending board approval.
Many school districts begin their budgeting process with deficits and solve them later. The state legislature has not passed its 2018-19 budget, which ultimately will affect local districts' operating budgets.
If the state increases its base student cost to $2,500, that would add $6.3 million in revenue for the Charleston County School District. Kennedy said the state might also contribute more toward employee retirement plans.
Those uncertainties might prompt the School Board to raise its local property tax rate — the aforementioned $2.38 tax hike on a $10,000 car. Such an increase would bring in about $9.4 million.
The district's current tax rates, both for operating and capital expenses, add about $123 to the bill for a $10,000 car and $1,230 to the bill on a $100,000 commercial or rental property.
Kennedy also proposes taking as much as $2.8 million from the fund balance, a rainy-day fund that was dangerously depleted during the district's 2015 budget crisis.
The district currently has $42.1 million in its fund balance after setting aside $7.5 million in unspent revenue during the current fiscal year. District policy requires the board to keep about $36 million in the fund balance.