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School district presents budget request to county council

Posted: May 15, 2014 4:54 p.m.
Updated: May 16, 2014 5:00 a.m.

School district representatives asked Kershaw County Council for 4.1 mils in funding for the upcoming school year. Kershaw County Board of School Trustees Chairwoman Mara Jones and Kershaw County School District (KCSD) Chief Finance Officer Donnie Weeks made the request during a presentation to council Tuesday evening on the district’s annual budget.

“How do we invest our resources? The majority of our resources are faculty and staff in the classrooms,” Jones said. “Our greatest commodity is our children. The majority of our budget is 84 percent personnel.”

Jones said the economic downturn that started in 2008 had a major impact of the school system.

“We had to do a lot of reconfiguring, as well as cutting. When we cut our assets, we’re cutting people. We can’t help the fixed costs like energy or maintenance of buildings. Those are fixed costs set in stone and we have to keep the lights on,” Jones said. “The only wiggle room we have is with our employees and we’ve done a lot of adjusting and innovative thinking over the past couple of years.”

Jones said the district has shown a high “return on investment” from the funds it receives, with multiple schools receiving awards; full district accreditation; highest-ever report card ratings; increased graduation and decreased dropout rates; and increases in students taking career or technical courses, college enrollments and scholarships received; and other indicators of educational success.

“The kids are becoming productive, taxpaying citizens who give back to the community. Our kids are excelling in spite of the number of cuts we’ve had,” Jones said.

She said the district hopes to restore positions and classroom supplies to prior levels. Jones mentioned core and elective teachers, library books and materials, teaching assistants, arts and extracurricular activities, gifted education, driver education and clerical positions in her presentation.

The proposed school district budget is just under $74.1 million, up from this year’s amount of just under $70.9 million, a 3.1 percent increase. Jones said $1.5 million of the increase is not as clear cut as it appears.

“The state has shifted around some things and it doesn’t end up being an increase for us,” she said.

Jones said priorities for the district include maintaining staffing levels to keep class sizes and available programs in place. She said the proposed budget includes a 1.5 percent increase in salaries, but that the amount covers the rising costs of employee benefits. Materials, supplies, library books and facilities maintenance rounded out the list. Hiring a grant writer for the district is also in the budget, a move that could bring more federal, state and private funding into the district.

Jones noted that the district held six public meetings to receive public input on how to use additional revenue. She reported the top suggestions included teaching positions for arts, music and electives and more funding for athletics, the arts and extracurricular activities.

Wilson decided to explain Jones’ earlier statement about $1.5 million of the budget increase not really being an increase in available money.

“There’s special revenue that comes from the state (that is) restricted. We can only use it in a certain way. Part of the plan for this year is to take some funding that was restricted before and move it into the general fund,” Wilson said. “It’s taking money out of the pocket on the right hand side of your pants and putting it in the left hand side, but there’s no more money. It’s the same money, it’s just in a different place. All the expenses come with it, so it’s a zero gain.”

The district’s budget for the 2014-2015 fiscal year which begins July 1.

Later in the meeting, council unanimously approved first reading of the county’s own proposed budget with little discussion. However, council also unanimously passed an amendment proposed by Councilman Jimmy Jones concerning school resource officer (SRO) funding. While the amendment did not deal with replacing grant funding that ends July 1 for three SRO positions, it did concern the administration of all SRO funds.

Councilman Jones’ motioned that all current SRO-related expenditures and funding for two crossing guards be moved from the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office budget and into a new county department he called “Outside Public Safety.”

“This would require no new funding and would reflect the current proposal,” Councilman Jones said, noting that council would deal with the three grant-funded SRO position at its next meeting. “It would protect our SROs and make sure they remain in the schools.”

Council also unanimously approved first reading of an ordinance that would establish a fee for companies who pump out septic systems to dispose of the material at the county’s wastewater treatment plant. County Administrator Vic Carpenter said the capability to accept such waste was made possible by a grant from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) and state law requires an ordinance for new fees to be established.

“It provides a legal receptacle for that waste,” Carpenter said. “It was always assumed (septic companies) would pay for that because it will be treated in the county system. However, by state law we cannot just create a fee. We must go through the process of three readings and a public hearing for a new fee.”

Council also unanimously passed second reading of an ordinance allowing the county to enter into an installment purchase agreement for up to $8.5 million to fund improvements to the county detention center, recreation facilities, Central Carolina Technical College or “other authorized purchases.” Councilman Jones made clear the proposal does not involve a tax increase.

“If I thought for one minute that this was calling for a tax increase, I would not support it. I’m going to gladly support it, because it’s going to be a reinvestment into our community,” he said. “It’s going to absolutely keep us from having to raise taxes. If we did not reinvest this money we would have to find $1 million somewhere to fix our jail. Things break. So, if anyone wants to say, ‘Jimmy Jones supports higher taxes,’ you’re a liar. Period.”

In other business, council:

• approved bids submitted to purchase a new fingerprinting machine and storage system for the detention center and for protective clothing for firefighters;

• approved the location of a new playground facility proposed between Lugoff and Elgin, as presented at its last regular meeting;

•  passed a proclamation recognizing May 14 as National Peace Officers Memorial Day; and

• decided to move its June 10 meeting to June 17, due to the primary election on June 10.

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