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KCSD sees changes to budget

Posted: July 16, 2018 5:00 p.m.
Updated: July 17, 2018 1:00 a.m.
C-I file photo/

KCSD CFO Donnie Wilson

There was a lot of gnashing of teeth at the S.C. State House, Kershaw County School District (KCSD) Chief Financial Officer Donnie Wilson noted as he presented the latest version of the district’s Fiscal Year 2019 budget to the Kershaw County Board of School Trustees during its July 10 meeting.

“The changes made by the Senate from what came out of the House Ways and Means (Committee) --  that pretty much survived intact. There were some little tweaks to it,” Wilson said.

The new fiscal year started July 1, and there’s a slight chance trustees will be asked to amend the budget sometime this fall. That, Wilson said, will depend on what final millage figures are passed by Kershaw County Council later this year.

In a PowerPoint presentation to trustees, Wilson said the state budget now reflects the following, with the first several items impacting the district directly:

• A $60 raise in the base student cost (BSC) to $2,485, as well as additional funds to cover the growth of students, which is reflected in the budget as approved by trustees several weeks ago.

• A 1 percent teacher raise, funded through the Education Improvement Act (EIA) instead of the Education Funding Act (EFA). If it had been funded through the EFA, the district would have only received 80 percent of the funding necessary to cover the raise. As with the BSC, when trustees voted on the budget previously, it included the 1 percent through the EFA as opposed to the EIA.

• A change in the qualifying definition “pupils in poverty” concerning eligibility for Medicaid and other benefits, or who are homeless, transient or in foster care. Wilson said this could mean less money up front for these services, but that it might be temporary. “They have a certain amount in that bucket, and will run this through and see how the money’s going out. They’ll see there’s going to be money left over and they’ll reallocate the balance before the end of the year,” Wilson said.

• The statewide minimum teacher schedule used in Fiscal Year 2018 will continue to be used during the new fiscal year, but the mandatory starting salary statewide has been set to $32,000 with the remaining schedule increased by 1 percent. “We were already above that; other districts were not, so that’s going to hurt them … and those are the districts that can least afford it. So they did allocate some additional funds to help those districts get there,” Wilson said.

• The state budget deleted a proviso which would have suspended a $10,000 earnings limitation on working retirees. Wilson said a provision in the originally proposed language would have also kept retirees from coming back to districts through third-parties, such as temporary or other employment companies in order to get around the limitation. “What (this) means is that there are still folks subject to the $10,000 limitation -- and we’re waiting on a legal opinion on this right now … we believe the law, as it currently reads, allows us to hire those individuals through Kelly Educational (Staffing) to come back into our district to work for us just as if they never left without the limitation or the cap,” Wilson said. The new language also states Police Officer Retiree members may return to work as school resource officers (SROs) without any limitation.

• Special education weighting for minutes of instruction is now based on each student’s Individualized Education Plan, or IEP, rather than a mandatory 250 minutes of instruction. “It can be less than that, if the IEP calls for less,” Wilson said. “That can help us (in terms of) special ed funds.”

Wilson then highlighted the following additional state budget changes:

• The state now allows the S.C. Superintendent of Education to consolidate administrative and professional services with one or more school districts with less than 1,500 students under certain circumstances. While Kershaw County would not fall under this proviso, Wilson said the authority would be the first step in district consolidations elsewhere in the state.

• A proviso allowing participation of private school students in interscholastic activities whose schools do not offer the activity, but who live in the public school’s attendance zone, was deleted. Wilson said he did not know of any current private school students participating in district activities. He also said the action did not address homeschool students one way or the other.

• Districts have now been instructed to increase access to free meals for all students in poverty, requiring school boards to adopt a resolution stating why their district is or is not participating in the federal Community Eligibility Program.

Wilson then turned his attention to local funding, and did not pull punches, especially when he asked trustees to look at the “local sources” portion of the budget.

“That’s where we put one line of potential local revenue, if they allowed us to get the millage increase that would have provided three additional SROs (school resource officers), a mental health coordinator, three additional mental health workers and a position for a math coordinator,” Wilson said. “That did not happen … what happened at county council? Basically, nothing.

“We went there three times and we came back and informed you all that county council said that unless it is included in the budget and approved by the board, it is nothing but a briefing, it is not a request. Well, you approved it this way, we took it to them and they declined.”

Wilson did say that Councilman Sammie Tucker Jr. offered a compromise that would have given the district approximately half of its increase request, but that it failed on a 4-3 vote.

“At the very last council we went to … one councilman, Mr. Connell, made a proposal to county council that they provide one additional SRO to the school district that they would pay for, and he did that through reductions in other funds so it did not result in a millage increase for the county, either. At the request of the sheriff -- our recommendation to them -- is to put that additional SRO at Lugoff-Elgin High School,” he said.

Wilson said the district believes the school’s high enrollment and split campus necessitates a second SRO there.

He also noted there is a chance -- although a slim one in his estimation -- the district could still end up with some extra millage from the county.

“They have up until third reading of the millage ordinance to provide additional funding to the school district, “Wilson explained. “They have three readings; I think the third reading this year will have to be in the middle of September because they have to print tax notices and have them out by late October or early November. So, I’m not, at this point in time, recommending that we amend this budget until that ordinance is finalized.”

Answering a question from Trustee Ron Blackmon, Wilson said the reason council did not pass a millage increase for the district was one of “misunderstanding” concerning the classification of funds.

“They apparently, somebody, I don’t know who, went out and looked at our audits and were confused over some categories of funds that were classified as ‘unbudgeted,’” Wilson said. “Well, those ‘unbudgeted’ funds -- it’s a big dollar amount … probably somewhere around $30 million -- we don’t budget it because one of the categories there is debt service. We know what our payments are; we’re obligated to make those payments. There’s no reason to budget for that; we already know what it is and it doesn’t affect the general fund at all, anyway. And, you cannot use that money for any other purpose. It can only be used to pay debt. So, they were thinking, ‘Well, you have all this unbudgeted money out there, you can use that to hire SROs.’ Well, no you can’t.”

Wilson said debt payment and other similarly restricted funds are “all lumped together.” Another, Wilson said, is Food Services, which maintains a budget completely separate from the rest of the district as a federal program.

“There were several of those things out there, misconceptions on their part -- that’s not money that we are free to do whatever we want to; it’s money that is restricted, it’s designated, it’s controlled, it’s limited in its use,” Wilson said, adding that he has offered to sit down with council and go through each of the district’s 30 or so funds, if necessary, in a budget workshop.

Wilson also said council misunderstood exactly what happened when the district took on 17 tech positions, where there was a swap of funding sources resulting in no net increase in spending.

“But they looked at that and thought we added 17 positions. They made the comment, ‘Well, you added 17 FTEs and not one of those FTEs was an SRO.’ Well, no, we can’t do that with this money, it’s restricted; we can either use it for technology or you can use it for maintenance,” Wilson said.

And, as former KCSD Superintendent Dr. Frank Morgan states in a letter to the editor today, Wilson also said council did not listen to the recommendations of the ad hoc committee it created, which spent time focused on funding student growth, funding SROs and dealing with school safety issues. He said as a growing district, sometimes an increase in taxes is necessary to deliver a quality education to the county’s youth.

Wilson said more conversation is needed with council, and new KCSD Superintendent Dr. Shane Robbins agreed, but also said other forms of funding might need to be pursued.

“We have a gap that we have to bridge,” Robbins said about also working with Camden Police Chief Joe Floyd on SROs. “It may require, and I’ve talked to (Wilson) about this, we have to have some skin in the game, but I think they’re willing to have some skin in the game, too. We’ve had a couple of good conversations. And we’re going to apply for some grant money and do that in concert with one another and see if we can’t come up with revenue sources to fund it that way as well.”

Following Wilson’s presentation, trustees voted unanimously on an annual resolution to issue $13.25 million in bonds as part of the district’s repayment of an Installment Purchase Plan it used to pay for Phase I construction projects in 2006.
Also during the July 10 meeting, trustees met in executive session to discuss undisclosed “employment matters.” Upon returning to open session, it voted unanimously to approve the administration’s recommendations on those matters.

Later that evening, the district issued a press release announcing trustees had named North Central High School Assistant Principal Chad Dixon as the new principal of North Central Middle School. Dixon replaces Dr. Burch Richardson, who is now the district’s professional development director.

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