UNION COUNTY — This week’s meeting of the Union County Board of School Trustees included the first reading of the 2014-2015 budget.
The proposed budget for the Union County School District is balanced at $26,865,594. This total assumes no increase in local tax millage rates (currently 119.9 operations and 48.0 debt service). With the first reading taking place Monday evening, the earliest the board can take final action will be June 9.
District financial officer Lynn Lawson presented the proposed budget to the board, providing copies of several source documents which he said were significant in shaping the proposed 2014-2015 budget. The first item he reviewed was the K-12 Education Reform Initiative from Gov. Nikki Haley. Lawson said that document was the basis for the most substantial changes in state funding for the school district. Lawson pointed out the “challenge,” as it was labeled in the governor’s reform initiative:
“South Carolina’s schools are funded through an incomprehensible mix of hundreds of programs and funding streams, each with their own compliance burdens and programmatic restrictions.”
Gov. Haley’s plan goes on to state that the state’s support for pre-kindergarten programs, student transportation services, instructional materials, the modernization of vocational equipment, and various other services is split between the General Fund, the Education Improvement Act (EIA), the Lottery Expenditure Account, and other sources. The plan also states each funding source must be separately accounted for at the state and district levels, increasing the administrative workload and making it harder for the public to piece together the true costs and benefits of each program or activity. In response to those challenges, Gov. Haley’s Executive Budget for FY 2014-15 consolidates funding for several programs; the revised funding formula will also allow for some existing weights and EIA programs to be eliminated.
Lawson also referred board members to the portion of the governor’s plan which addresses “poverty” as a factor in state EFA (Education Finance Act) funding. The EFA formula used to-date considered poverty in the context of districts’ “relative wealth” or ability to generate tax funding as compared to all other districts in South Carolina. The new initiative looks at the student enrollment level to focus additional funding in districts with high poverty factors at the household level, versus the county/district level.
The three key components of the governor’s plan are technology, emphasis on reading, and funding for poverty. The poverty funding is part of the EFA formula, which means funds are expected to be recurring in future budget years. Lawson pointed out that the technology and reading funds are expected to be one-time initiatives to help many districts catch up with the latest trends in the use of technology in instruction.
Lawson reviewed how the initiative translated into additional state funding for the Union County School District and dictated that some salaries and benefits shift from previous state EIA funds to the funds now being delivered through EFA for the General Fund budget.
Overall, the Union County School District’s revenue sources are 77 percent state funding, 21 percent local taxes/fees, and 2 percent federal and miscellaneous. Total salaries and benefits are budgeted to be $23,606,059, which includes several state-mandated increases for teachers’ years of experience, increased employer insurance rates, and increased employer retirement rates.
“The total general operating expenses — the things you have to pay to keep the lights on, garbage picked up, and have supplies to work with — are budgeted to be $3,259,535,” Lawson said. “This is a net increase of $13,565. We were able to reduce expense estimates for several operational costs and mitigate the cost of needed equipment and supplies to start the new Cosmetology and Protective Services classes in the Career and Technology Center.”