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Preliminary KCSD budget begins 'healing process'
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Things are looking up for the Kershaw County School District’s (KCSD) new budget. KCSD Superintendent Dr. Frank Morgan presented the $65.4 million preliminary 2012-2013 budget at Tuesday’s Kershaw County Board of School Trustees meeting.

While the proposed budget is 9.24 percent behind the district’s Fiscal Year 2008 budget, it reflects a 3 percent increase over the current budget.

An online budget survey; public meetings with principals and KCSD personnel; as well as parent, teacher and student cabinet meetings have all contributed to the construction of next year’s budget.

The base student cost is estimated to increase to $2,012 per child, which is still below the legal requirement of $2,800; this year’s base student cost is only $1,880. Salary increases -- non-existent since 2008 -- will resume with a 2 percent increase. That increase includes making several personnel changes by restoring full-time media specialist positions at Baron-DeKalb, Mount Pisgah and Bethune elementary schools; full-time guidance counselors at the Continuous Learning Center, Jackson Elementary and Midway Elementary; and assistant activities directors at Camden and Lugoff-Elgin high schools. However, the district will lose flexibility in the way it uses $103,950 in order to restore teacher supply money. Also, funding school-based maintenance projects will take an estimated $175,000.

“This is the beginning of the healing process,” Morgan said. “During this time, the KCSD has truly ‘outperformed its resources.’”

The budget is the most important document the district produces, Morgan said, but will not meet all of the district’s critical needs.

The KCSD has the option to ask for up to $724,500 or 6.9 mills from Kershaw County Council under caps enacted under Act 388. The proposed budget does not account for any county funding since there is no guarantee the district would receive whatever funds it requests. Act 388 swapped school funding from property taxes on owner-occupied dwellings for a 1-cent increase in sales tax. The law also imposed annual millage rate increase caps.

If the district does request county funding and it is granted, there is an additional list of restorations KCSD officials would like to make. They include restoring funding for non-revenue sports and extracurricular activities, as well as facility maintenance and technology infrastructure beyond what is already proposed.

A critical unknown is a bill in the S.C. House of Representatives proposing to privatize the school bus system. The state currently owns and operates its entire school bus system. If the bill passes and is signed by the governor, the state would require local districts to take full responsibility for operating their own bus systems. The district would then have the option to contract bus services to a private company or operate the system itself. Under current law, the state must replace buses more than 15 years old. However, the state has never enforced the law. The proposed bill would force the replacement of 15-year-old or older buses when local school districts take over those operation costs.

There are approximately 55 KCSD buses that would need to be replaced under the law, at an estimated cost of $60,000 to $80,000 each. KCSD CFO Donnie Wilson said the district isn’t opposed to bus privatization, but the bill “raises a lot of questions.” Wilson said if the bill passes, it would be put into effect immediately and the district would need to decide by May whether it will operate its own bus system or contract the service out. The bill doesn’t give districts suggestions for funding to replace buses or maintain the bus system.

Wilson said that the change will probably cost more than what the state will give, which suggests operating the bus system on a local level “will have a negative impact on tax payers,” Wilson said. The only way the district will be able to replace the buses is by issuing bonds.

“Whether we privatize or operate on our own, we can’t determine taxpayer costs,” Wilson said. “It is impossible to determine the full cost because there are so many unknowns.”

The district will hold public budget meetings, each beginning at 6:30 p.m., at North Central High School March 29; Lugoff-Elgin High School April 10; and Camden High School April 12.

In other business:

• The board rescheduled its May meetings for May 8 and May 22.

• Jenny Koumas, a Kershaw County parent, addressed the board during the public forum on what she called the parental right to know, hypocrisy in school district rules and personnel action. She said her fifth-grade student brought home a book she deemed inappropriate for elementary and middle school students. Koumas said the district showed hypocrisy in allowing students to read a book that contains subjects and words that would cause students to be punished it they used them. She said she thinks parents should have the right to review and have their children opt-out of material they deem inappropriate. Koumas also said she had had a conversation with a high-school principal, who said he would address situations where athletes are inappropriately dressed with no shirts and sagging pants. Koumas said she later returned to the school and the situation had not changed. She said she finds it embarrassing and wanted the board to address her concerns in writing.

• The board offered condolences to the family of a recently deceased Lugoff-Elgin High School student.

• Camden High School, built in 1992 with additions in 2009, needs repair. According to a report, the school needs to be rekeyed, has asbestos, drainage system and erosion issues, and needs updating to meet U.S. American With Disability Act and South Carolina fire alarm requirements. The roads around the school are also deteriorating.

• Fifteen Kershaw county schools earned Palmetto Gold and Silver awards for closing achievement gaps and academic achievement. ATEC and Doby’s Mill Elementary, Lugoff Elementary and Lugoff-Elgin Middle schools received Gold Awards in the general performance category.  Bethune Elementary, Blaney Elementary, Camden Elementary, Camden Middle, Jackson, Mt. Pisgah Elementary, Stover Middle, North Central Middle, Pine Tree Hill Elementary and Wateree Elementary schools received Silver Awards. North Central High School received a Silver Award for closing an achievement gap.

• The board’s next meeting is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday at Leslie M. Stover Middle School.