Fort Mill school district faces tough year

Special to The HeraldFebruary 7, 2009 

Keith Callicutt

In these tough economic times, we are preparing to discuss, debate and deliberate the 2009-2010 budget for the Fort Mill school district. I believe it would be helpful to quickly review last year's budget and consider what we know and do not know about next year's budget.

First of all, as we review last year's 2008-2009 budget, we should be reminded that our budget reflects what we believe is important in educating the children of our school district. Our strategic plan reflects our motto of putting "Children First" and our vision of having the most "inviting" school district in our state and nation. Our budget does reflect our priorities, and one of our highest is maintaining low student/teacher ratios. Our class sizes throughout our school district indicate that we have been successful in that endeavor.

Let's review for just a moment our 2008-2009 operational budget. Last spring, our school board approved a balanced budget totaling $68,146,102. This represented a $4,768,407 or 7.5 percent increase over the 2007-2008 budget. It is worth noting that 87.1 percent of this operational budget was tied up in salaries and fringe benefit costs. Purchased services, which includes utilities and all contracted services, made up 8.5 percent of that same budget. Therefore, 95.6 percent of this school year's operational budget was composed of personnel and purchased services, leaving only 4.4 percent for supplies, equipment, travel, staff development and other services.

So, as we look at our 2008-2009 budget we should easily see that there is not much we can cut without impacting personnel, the largest percentage of our budget. Again, we began the year projecting $68,146,102 in revenues. Since the beginning of this school year we have received mid-year budget cuts from the state totaling $2,260,364. This is the result of a significant decrease in state revenues based on the 1-cent sales tax that replaced homeowner property taxes for school operations under Act 388. The sad fact is we cannot be certain that we will not receive further cuts before the end of this year. The best we can hope for is the same amount of revenue that we have at the end of this year.

What do we know and not know at this time? Let's first look at what we do know.

We know that, with the downturn in the economy, hard decisions have to be made.

We know that our revenue projections are likely to be $2,260,364 short as a result of mid-year cuts in state funding.

We know that the vast majority of our budget is in personnel and personnel related costs (87.1 percent).

We know that we have been the fastest growing school district in the state and that we have grown by 3,627 students since the 2002-2003 school year. We presently have an enrollment of 9,490 students. This represents a 62 percent increase in our enrollment since 2002-2003.

We know that we are experiencing a slower rate of growth because of the downturn in the housing market, but we are still growing.

We know that the base student cost or the monies we receive per student from the state have increased from $1,937 per student to $2,578 per student over the last eight years. However, this $2,578 student figure was prior to the midyear cuts we have received since the beginning of this school year.

We know that we will open two new elementary schools in August 2009 and absorb the costs associated with their opening.

We know that, barring any unforeseen changes, we will be charged with operating our school district with its new schools and new students with state funding more similar to the levels we received in 2006.

Let's look at what we do not know.

We do not know when our economy will improve.

We do not know if we will receive further cuts in state funding prior to the end of this school year.

We do not know if a federal stimulus package that contains monies for public schools will be approved by Congress, and we do not know how those monies, if approved, would flow to us.

We readily admit that what we do not know is creating fear and concern for the future of public education.

At our last board meeting, we began a discussion with our board about these and other issues relating to our operational budget for 2009-2010. It also should be pointed out that we have thus far been able to protect the priorities established for this year's operational budget. We are thankful that we have been in a financial position to do so. However, we are now entering new territory as we begin deliberations on the 2009-2010 budget.

I would respectfully request that our community attend our board meetings over the next few months to hear and learn more from the discussions about how they can become involved in helping us continue our tradition of academic excellence in the face of unprecedented budget cuts. Our community has always stepped forward to meet its challenges, and we need you to be informed and involved.

V. Keith Callicutt, Ph.D., is superintendent of the Fort Mill school district.

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