Proposed increase fails, 6-3; budget tabled until next meeting
At the school board meeting Monday night, Finance Director Kelly Richardson presented the finance report for May, showing roughly $31 million in revenue and around $24.7 million in expenses, for a net balance of $6.3 million with a month to go in the fiscal year.
The board unanimously voted to approve the funding flexibility transfer proviso, through which the state allows the district to move certain earmarked funds to other parts of the budget.
The board also unanimously voted to approve the sale of up to $4.5 million in general obligation bonds to pay outstanding debt and annual maintenance and technology costs in the district.
The board voted to table the second and final vote on the budget until their June 27 meeting. The state budget conference committee met last Friday and hammered out a compromise, which they will bring to the full SC Legislature beginning today. After approval, it will go to the governor for any vetoes, and then it will go back to the legislators for veto overrides before it becomes law. Richardson said it looks like the conference committee went with the SC House’s $4000 increase to starting pay for teachers, but it went with the SC Senate’s version of the funding formula. Richardson advised waiting for the SC Department of Education to release numbers on what the changes will mean to the school district.
A lengthy discussion on tax millage was held, as well. With the increase in the consumer price index, the district could raise taxes this year by six mills. That millage is not assessed on people’s primary residences, but instead on other property, such as vehicles, rental properties, and other things like that. A six-mill increase would net the district an extra $250,000 and would cost an extra $36 on a $100,000 piece of property. Union County’s current tax millage is at 127, compared to the state average of 170. Board member Frank Hart noted that other surrounding districts with which Union is competing for teachers have much higher millage rates. He said Chester is at 206 mills, Cherokee is at 176, and Newberry is at 180. He said if the district is going to recruit staff and keep them, they need to raise the millage to have the additional funding needed to stay competitive. Board member Manning Jeter noted that the ESSER money would be running out in the coming years, and the positions and programs currently being paid for with that money would either have to go away, or the district would have to find a way to pay for them. He said sometimes you have to bite the bullet and step up, saying he wanted to see every student have the best of everything in this district. Mark Ivey also spoke in support of the increase, saying the district continues to add costs, citing the possible additional $48,000 needed to operate during the intersession periods in the modified schedule the board had just passed. He said revenue has to be added to cover those costs, and the only way to do that is to raise the taxes. Dr. Jane Wilkes stated it would be hard to explain to the people they represent why they are raising taxes with $20 million in ESSER funds and the increase in gas prices and many other things. She said she would prefer to wait another year and see if conditions improve. Mike Cohen and Mike Massey also spoke against an increase this year, saying that people are struggling, and that times are tough and they don’t know how long they will stay tough. Dr. Wanda All asked if the board could go back next year and pick up the six mills then. Richardson said the board can look back one year to pick up millage. Mark Ivey made the motion to raise taxes by the six mills allowed this year and also to look back to last year and pick up that allowable millage. He, Manning Jeter, and Frank Hart voted for the increase, while the other six board members voted against it, so the motion failed. Richardson did note that the board had until September, the month before tax notices come out, to decide on an increase.
We’ll have more from the school board in future newscasts.