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County among lowest third for school district funding

Posted: September 6, 2012 10:02 p.m.
Updated: September 7, 2012 5:00 a.m.

The Kershaw County School District (KCSD) is among the lowest third group of South Carolina school districts in terms of combined state and local funding.

Where the KCSD ranks in comparison with the state’s 84 other school districts came out as KCSD Chief Financial Officer Donnie Wilson revealed the latest data from the 2010 fiscal year at Tuesday night’s Kershaw County School Board of Trustee meeting.

Not all the news is bad.

As of the 2010 fiscal year, KCSD ranked 19th out of 85, based on the district’s enrollment of more than 10,000 students, putting them in the top quarter of all school districts. KCSD ranks 25th in the state based on the county’s “Assessed Valuation,” the index of taxability or the taxpayer’s ability to pay. The assessed valuation is the “relative wealth” of the county in which a school district resides, Wilson said. The assessed valuation for Kershaw County is $2.9 million, putting KCSD in the top third in the state for wealth.

However, when based on what is known as Kershaw County’s taxpayer ability, the KCSD ranks 61st in total state and local revenue, putting it among the lowest third in the state.

The state determines how much funding a school district is eligible for through a state funding model called the Education Finance Act (EFA). Through the EFA, the state compares the relative wealth of each school district in order to balance overall funding. Each year, the legislature determines the Base Student Cost (BSC), on “weighted pupil units.” A weighted pupil unit is the measure of each individual child and their need within each district. On average, the BSC is split between 70 percent of state funding and 30 percent county funding. The state bases its portion of BSC funding on the index of taxpayer ability. The more wealth a county has, the less state funding a district receives, Wilson said. State funding ranges from 0 to 95 percent. This year the BSC is $2,012. With the EFA formula, a school district could receive $0 to $1,911 dollars, depending on taxpayers’ ability to support the school district.

“We aren’t a poor district. On one hand, wealth works in our favor, but on the other hand it’s a detriment to us because we aren’t eligible for high state revenue or federal revenue,” Wilson said. “We have to rely more on our local tax payers to fund our educational system.”

KCSD is funded by the county through taxes on vehicles; second-homes, or non-owner occupied homes; and boats and business through voter-supported 2006 legislation known as ACT 388. Owner-occupied homes do not support the KCSD’s operational costs through taxes as a result of the act.

Property is taxed for the debt service, however, which helps pay for the cost of the buildings the district uses to house schools, but not the people in them, Director of Communications Mary Anne Byrd said.

The goal of Act 388 was to add a 1-cent additional sales tax in place of tax increases on property for general operation funds. The money did not replace the funds that would have come from taxes on owner-occupied homes even if millage rates stayed the same, Wilson said during the board meeting.

“Act 388 is flawed, and there is no will at the state level to fix it,” Wilson, said.

KCSD is ranked No. 60 based on local funds designated to the school district. The district is asking for 158.1 mills this year, a 4.7 mill increase from last year or approximately $500,000. School board Chair Mara Jones asked for the increase during Kershaw County Council’s Aug. 14 meeting. KCSD hasn’t had a millage increase since 2009, despite the decrease in state funding, Wilson said.

Under district’s attorneys’ advisement, the board unanimously voted to adopt a “resolution to set a tax levy to ensure adequate programs” for KCSD students Tuesday night. The board forwarded the resolution to the county auditor Wednesday. The county auditor has the requirement of setting the appropriate millage, Wilson said.

Bryd said the board will continue to brief council with millage request presentations, but will from now on submit a formal resolution.  Sending it to the auditor will guarantee that the district’s request for an increase will be on the agenda.

County Councilman Stephen Smoak said the KCSD and council need to talk about millage.

“We need to have a discussion about it at some point,” Smoak said. “The council needs to provide an answer to the school district.”

Councilman Tom Gardner, a former school teacher, said the ratings were “certainly disappointing,” although he has not had time to interpret that data.

As of the 2010 fiscal year, KCSD was in 56th place for its 153.8 operational millage rate in comparison with the state’s other school districts. Based on the average daily membership or enrollment, the school district receives $1,705 per student locally, a “low number” in comparison with other school districts, Wilson said. The KCSD ranks 50th in total state funding, receiving $3,151 per student. The KCSD ranks 70th in its federal funding for programs like Title I. However, Title I funds are based on poverty, so it doesn’t help KCSD because it is not a poverty stricken district, Wilson said.

Although Kershaw County may never be able to receive the local funding that some of Lexington County and Richland County school districts get, KCSD Superintendent Dr. Frank Morgan said the school district should be at least in the middle. If economic development is the goal of the county, neither Morgan, Wilson nor Jones see how the KCSD being in the lowest third in the state is a step in the right direction.

“The KCSD is a key piece of (economic development), and being in the bottom third is not going to enhance that effort,” Morgan said. “There should be more accountability; the KCSD has been held accountable for money management: our budget has gone down 17 percent, while the county’s has gone up 15 percent.”

The question is sustainability, Morgan said. Although the KCSD has done “a tremendous job maintaining momentum,” they can only do it for so long at their current level without proper funding.

Jones said she doesn’t believe anyone is trying to “slight” the school district, but thinks people are unaware of how the KCSD is funded.

“It is slowly putting us behind,” Jones said. “Our financial situation has declined, but we have continued high student achievement. At some point there will be a diminished return if we don’t invest.”

Wilson said the school district has to be in good standing in order to attract businesses.

“You pay for quality services…. You have to have a good school system or you won’t attract quality businesses. An excellent school district costs money and the local people have to be willing to support it,” Wilson said. “You’ve got to have infrastructure for a business to come here, but the next thing businesses ask is ‘What kind of school system is available for my employees,’” Wilson said.

In other news:

• The KCSD is about 60 students over 2012-2013 projections. 

• Two board members, five teachers from the district’s Teacher Forum, three building administrators, Morgan and Byrd will meet to develop “a set of ongoing strategies” to increase understanding of political issues impacting K-12 education and student  understanding of governmental entities and processes and will report to the board in December. The board decided better voter education was a goal it wanted to purse during its last board meeting.

• The Lugoff-Elgin High School Band program will buy an activity bus to replace a bus that experienced an engine failure. The board motioned for the band program to spend up to $3,600 on a bus. The band program must pay for the bus over a period of 10 years.

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