District passes $215m budget, raises millage

  • Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Berkeley County School Board has passed a $215 million budget for 2013 – 2014 that will raise the millage rate.
Berkeley County School District Chief Financial Officer Brantley Thomas presented school board members with three options at a budget workshop before the regular June 25 school board meeting, where the vote took place.
The first option was to not raise any millage, the second would raise it by seven mills and the third by five.
Raising the millage will help the district balance the budget and be ready for operational costs for new schools, according to the budget presentation.
The district currently has a general operations millage of 137.9 mills plus a debt service of 49 mills for a total millage of 186.9, according to the presentation. The state average for operating mills is 170 and the state average for overall mills is 208.
The presentation noted that BCSD ranks 24th out of 84 districts in academic performance and ranks 55th out of 84 in per-pupil spending.
Board member Doug Cooper made a motion to pass the five mills option, and the vote passed 7 – 2.
This version of the budget will put $2.2 million in the reserve fund and will help pay for teachers' and employees' annual salary increases, according to discussion from board members.
The budget includes the regular salary step increase for employees for 2013 – 2014 in addition to the 2009 – 2010 step increase, which employees did not receive after the economy slumped and the school budget was tightened.
There was discussion among board members before the vote was called. Board member Kathy Schwalbe pointed to the district's millage rate as compared to other districts in the state.
Board member Scott Marino said he is for adding the step increase but takes issue with adding positions to the district office when the district has to reach into the reserve fund. He said the two district office positions (listed as “district level support” in the budget presentation) will cost $235,000 along with a supervisor for school resources officers for $70,000.
“We need to catch teachers back up on step,” board member Phillip Obie said. “Everyone deserves the increase (Superintendent) Dr. (Rodney) Thompson got on his review.”
The board voted to give Thompson a four-percent salary increase – bringing his annual salary to $163,800 – at the May 14 meeting following his evaluation. Obie continued that a slide in the budget presentation states the millage tax increase will not directly affect homeowners.
“To a degree that is correct,” Obie said, adding that it will indirectly impact the homeowner by increasing prices at the grocery store, the gas pump, on cars, boats and local businesses.
He said the $198 million bond plus the $53 million equipment acquisition bond is already a lot for taxpayers to swallow in one year.
Thomas said the expenditure items are outside of the district's control and are OK within the range of the fund balance.
“I don't think anybody's a fan of millage rate increases,” Cooper said. “In most cases this board has been pretty flexible. We're trying to refund a series of bonds in the next two months.”
“I want to make sure we remember as a board we are taxpayers as are all teachers and maintenance workers and employees,” Schwalbe said. “They don't want to see their taxes increased either. However, they deserve to be compensated in a way they were promised . . . I don't want to see our taxes go up.
“I hope we're keeping the salary increase in mind. That is incredibly important.”
“We owe it to our teachers,” board member Shannon Lee said, adding that people who don't get their pay increase don't stick around.
Thompson said the step increase affects all employees.
Board chair Kent Murray said he supports the motion because BCSD has one of the lowest tax rates in the state. “I am ready to start investing in our children and our schools,” Murray said. “Our maintenance folks have been waiting since 2011 for this salary step to be implemented.”
Obie and Marino voted against this version of the budget while the other seven board members voted in favor.

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