Need a tax hike? Prove it

Harbor View Elementary School parents and children are distressed: The school’s part-time computer instructor’s job is slated to be eliminated because the school lacks the $30,000 necessary to pay her.

Meanwhile, last week the Charleston County School Board approved a reorganization that boosts the triple-digit salaries of three people in top administrative positions. One will receive an additional $20,000 and another an additional $30,000. The third position is yet to be filled. Thirty administrative staff members are paid more than $100,000.

School Board Chair Cindy Bohn Coats said the raises will not cost the district money because it is being taken from other areas.

Such as?

Now the board faces another question: Will it approve a tax increase? It’s likely that the administration will seek one, according to our news reports. Maybe there are solid reasons for the Harbor View budget shortage, the salary increases and a tax increase. But until the public is given convincing explanations, it will be difficult to muster support for a tax hike.

The board should be just as skeptical and should be willing to probe beyond the obvious.

For example, for years the perception has been that too much money goes into administration at the expense of direct spending on educational programs and personnel. District officials should be able to justify fully each position and the salary attached to it.

And, so the public will understand, perhaps one of the first jobs John McCarron should tackle when he becomes chief information officer (with a salary of $135,427) is to explain what well-paid administrators do that is more important than teachers in the classroom.

The board has yet to have in-depth discussions about the budget. In the coming weeks, they should demand data that tell the district’s financial story.

It certainly sounds like a good thing to provide teacher training on new Common Core State Standards ($3.4 million), and longer school years for four struggling schools ($1 million). And adding five pre-kindergarten classes at a cost of $580,000 is a move in the right direction.

But the budget being considered includes no money to expand the district’s literacy academies, which are designed to ensure that students are able to read at grade level — the district’s top priority.

As always, there is good news/bad news for the district. Bad: Federal money to high-poverty schools is expected to shrink by 10 to 15 percent. The board will have to decide whether to maintain services supported by that funding.

Good: A city of Charleston tax increment financing district (TIF) will expire, meaning $4 million more for the schools. And an additional $2 million is expected from taxes paid by Boeing.

Mrs. Bohn Coats said the board isn’t interested in raising taxes and would first discuss how to reappropriate existing funds.

Board member John Barter says he would need to be convinced that the board had “worked the budget hard” before considering a tax hike.

Board member Todd Garrett said he can’t think of a reason he would vote to raise taxes.

In tight economic times, families examine every potential expense to see if it’s necessary. It’s a good exercise for the school board as it considers next year’s budget.