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School board gets first look at new budget

Posted: April 2, 2018 4:58 p.m.
Updated: April 3, 2018 1:00 a.m.
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Kershaw County School District (KCSD) Superintendent Dr. Frank Morgan provided the Kershaw County Board of School Trustees on March 27 its first look at a proposed 2018-19 budget that would go into effect on July 1.

Morgan broke his presentation into three sections: a balanced $87.5 million budget, representing a 3.7 percent increase from the current budget; an unbalanced budget with $510,000 of additional teaching and teaching assistant positions; and, finally, a list of unmet needs.

The balanced and unbalanced budgets both reflect a projected enrollment of 10,620 students, 75 more students than currently enrolled. However, Morgan warned, additional residential development approved by the county, especially in the West Wateree area, could see that number rise. Morgan also based the two budget scenarios on state revenue based on a budget adopted by the S.C. House of Representatives. He noted in a memorandum to trustees that the House version does not include any increase in the base student cost -- currently $600 below the legal requirement -- but that he hopes the S.C. Senate version might rectify that. The budgets also assume no local millage increase, and that, in an election year, Morgan said he doubts Kershaw County Council would be amenable to a millage increase request.

Morgan began by pointing out major budget challenges, which included the levels of state and local funding; growth, and the demographics of that growth; rigorous standards and accountability; the need for remedial services, especially in math; alternative placements for upper elementary school students with developmental needs; restoring arts and elective programs cut during the 2008 economic downturn; an ongoing teacher shortage; the need for workforce development; state and federal mandates; and safety issues, especially in the realms of behavioral heath and school resource officers.

The balanced budget proposal includes:

•A Step plus 2 percent increase for all employees (including a State House mandate to do so for teachers) -- Morgan noted the district is currently having problems attracting drivers and assistants, due to more competitive salaries in neighboring districts.

• Funding for mandated increases for retirement and health care.

• Adequate teaching positions to maintain current staffing ratios and to meet special education mandates.

• Additional clerical positions for Camden and Lugoff-Elgin high schools -- Morgan said these schools were “hit hard” during the 2008 recession, and that they are needed in order to handle clerical issues attached to increased safety measures planned for the schools.

• An additional English for Speakers of Other Languages teacher.

• An additional teacher for the Continuous Learning Center (CLC) to serve upper elementary school students -- Morgan said the CLC is beginning to see 9- to 11-year-olds with significant therapeutic needs.

• Placement of retirees at Step 23 -- Morgan said they are currently at Step 13, and the district needs to be more competitive with districts that can employ retirees, especially teachers, at higher steps.

Morgan’s unbalanced budget, for which trustees would need to find the $510,000 of additional funding, included two major requests. First, Morgan asked that an additional teaching position be added to the Applied Technology Education Campus in order to expand engineering courses. “There is a huge demand for that,” Morgan said, adding that the program can serve 40 to 45 students from all three high schools.

Second, Morgan proposed adding 15 assistant positions at the district’s elementary and middle schools in order to provide for math remediation. “What I’m hearing from principals and teachers is that we have in grades K-8, and, especially 3 through 8, that need a double-dose of math every day,” Morgan said, suggesting the additional positions could be people who could help regular teachers with such students.

“I don’t know if that’s going to be possible,” Morgan said, referring to the extra $510,000, “but I think it’s real important this year to talk about what we can do with what we have, and what we’d like to do if we had additional money.”

Morgan then listed off the unmet needs he suggested the district still need to address:

• District level curriculum support positions for English/Language Arts, math, science and social studies -- Morgan said that, right now, if a teacher has students who need assistance in these areas, they are having to ask for teachers from other schools to assist.

• Positions to increase high school offerings, particularly in the arts, foreign languages, and advanced academic areas -- Morgan said there simply are not enough teachers in the district now to increase these programs.

• Positions to lower class size at the elementary and middle school levels -- Morgan said this is usually the No. 1 or No. 2 issue among teachers.

• Additional mental/behavioral health positions -- Morgan said this is currently being discussed by the board/county council ad hoc committee and that the suggested norm is a ratio of one such position for every 500 students.

• Additional school resource officers (SROs), which is also being discussed by the ad hoc committee -- Morgan noted that first-year costs for new SROs is approximately $120,000, with subsequent annual costs of approximately $72,000 to $75,000.

Going forward, the board will meet again April 10 and 24 to review and discuss the budget. It has set aside April 17, 18 and 25 for public budget meetings. The board expects to receive a budget update based on the final state budget and public feedback on May 1, and to possibly adopt the new budget on May 15. Doing so would allow the district nearly a month and a half to transition to the new budget on July 1.

“This district has been a very strong steward of public money,” Morgan said. “When taxpayers give us a buck, we give them more than a buck in value, and I believe that. I think that’s because we have a strong commitment across the district to do right by taxpayers to spend their money as well as possible.”

Morgan also touched on recent comments by county officials concerning economic development.

“Economic development has to do with fee in lieu of taxes agreements. It has to do with products, buildings and building to move into and infrastructure and industrial sites, and that’s all very important,” he said, “but part of what we sell when we sell economic development is the quality of life in the community. That’s a huge part of what we sell -- quality of education, what we can do for kids and what we can offer to kids, how we can support workforce development through education is another piece…. I think that’s something we need to emphasize as we go through this process.”

Later in the meeting, Trustee Todd McDonald reported on the first of a new set of meetings being conducted by the joint ad hoc committee. He said KCSD Director of Operations Billy Smith made a presentation on school safety and “showing us how safe we are.”

“There’s no way to make (schools) completely safe unless we build a wall around every school,” McDonald said. “We have to decide as a community how safe we want to be. Ultimately, that comes down to a dollar figure or how we can find ways to do it.”

In order to gauge that commitment, the ad hoc committee is putting out a survey regarding what safety measures the public would like the district to make and how they would like to fund them.

“Would you be willing to do a millage increase? A flat-like fee, kind of like the garbage fee? Just put it out there and let’s ask. If they say, ‘no,’ great,” McDonald said.

Morgan said that with a combination of some referendum funds and other funds the district has been able to “scrape up,” some safety measures are already being put in place. He said there are still challenges at the three high schools, especially at Camden and three high schools, especially at Camden and Lugoff-Elgin high schools where additional work is needed.

McDonald listed three proposals the ad hoc is discussing: Putting at least one SRO in every school, increasing the number of mental health counselors, and purchasing radios that are fully compatible with those used by law enforcement.

In other business March 27:

• the board received a report on February’s financials from KCSD CFO Donnie Wilson;

• the board approved facility requests from the Kershaw Baptist Association and the S.C. United Methodist Church to hold respective sporting events at district facilities;

• Morgan suggested the board hold its second meeting of April to the end of the month, as they did for March;

• Morgan reported on some state legislative matters, including those affecting retiree workers, the possibility of the state superintendent being appointed instead of elected, and a proposal to require higher grades for students seeking scholarships from the S.C. Education Lottery; and

• Morgan updated trustees on discussions with the county’s legislative delegation about a request to move school board elections from the summer to coincide with the November general election in future years.

Trustees also entered executive session to discuss employment matters, including the retirement of a certified classified employee, employment of a certified classified employee, transfer and assignment of a certified classified employee, and an athletic supplement; and to obtain legal advice concerning the ongoing search for a new superintendent.

Following the executive session, trustees voted unanimously to accept the administration’s recommendations on the employment matters, although the board did not state what those recommendations entailed.

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