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School board wants end to KCC millage approval

Posted: November 22, 2013 4:30 p.m.
Updated: November 25, 2013 5:00 a.m.

While the Kershaw County Board of School Trustees supports a new state funding structure for K-12 education, members don’t believe Kershaw County Council should have to approve any millage increases for school operations.

The board will consider adopting a set of legislative positions in December and discuss those positions with legislators. Trustees received the legislative options during its Nov. 19 meeting.

The new funding structure is included in the proposed S.C. Jobs, Education and Tax Act, which would call for the complete restructuring of the state’s sales tax, resulting in $600 million in tax relief for businesses and provide “predictable” sources of funding. The board supports the legally required level of funding per student. By law, the Kershaw County School District (KCSD) is suppose to receive $2,758 in state funds per student but is currently only receiving $2,101 per student. The difference represents a $5.7 million loss for the district. District administrators have said that if the state funded students at the legally required amount, the district could cut class sizes; restore gifted, special needs and 4K programming; and bring extracurricular support to where it was prior to the economic downturn.

However, the board said it supports the repeal of local legislation -- a requirement for county council to have to approve school operation-related millage increases.

As stated in a draft legislation position statement: “Legal authority for K-12 education rests with the elected board of school trustees. If citizens are ultimately displeased with tax rates for school operations or the way in which schools are operated, such pleasure can be expressed at the ballot box.”

The board also wants to restore a competitive teacher-salary scale. KCSD Superintendent Dr. Frank Morgan said that, since the economic downturn, teacher salaries have been frozen due to funding cuts. It will cost about $70 million statewide to restore the system and that money would need to come from the state, as local governments have been hesitant to increase funding.

The board wants to keep the following minimum staffing standards:

• 35-student maximum per class;

• full-time principles in schools with more than 250 students;

• 240-student maximum in PE; and

• a fulltime guidance counselor in schools with 500 students or more.

Elimination of the standards put “fiscally-dependent” school districts in a bind, as they could have their budget cut if there are no standards.

In regard to adult education, new legislation proposes that technical schools take over the program. Morgan said it is more logical for the public school districts to be in charge of adult education for accessibility purposes. He is also concerned about the partnerships the district currently has with local colleges, if they were to completely take over adult education programming.

Morgan said the district will not support teacher and administration evaluations that place too much weight on standardized test scores, because, he said, they are not an accurate measure of teacher or administrator performance. The district will, however, support an end to state restrictions on when the school year can begin. Morgan said more time at the beginning of the school year means more time before testing begins.

The board may still vote to oppose subsidies for private school education, including vouchers and tax credits, because it would take $800 million out of public education during the next 13 years. The state wouldn’t require a similar academic accountability system at private schools like it does for public schools and, ultimately, private schools would be able to pick and choose students. Legislators pushing this legislation said the proposal would help economically-disadvantaged students have not said how or to what degree such students would benefit. Transparency would also be an issue, Morgan said.

Trustees did not discuss the draft positions at the Nov. 19 meeting, but Trustee Dr. Don Copley did bring up Common Core standards. He and Board Chair Mara Jones asked district administrators to provide information on what the benefits and drawbacks are in regard to implementing Common Core standards. Copley and Jones said there is a lot of conflicting information about Common Core. Morgan said reading the Common Core standards is a good way for people to familiarize themselves with what Common Core would mean for the district.

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