Parents protest art, music cuts as York school board approves spending plan

Special to Enquirer-HeraldJune 18, 2013 

— A group of York parents protested budget cuts that include a reduction in elementary art and music programs in some York schools during a school board meeting last week.

“We need to encourage them to be creative,” York parent Amber Ramsey told board members, referring to the need for children to be exposed to art and music. “That’s what we expect.”

The music and art programs at two elementary schools are affected by $1.9 million in budget cuts approved earlier this year by the school board. The board approved a plan to cut 22 positions and reduce the number of work days for some administrators and staff for the coming school year.

After a public hearing where the parents spoke, the board last week approved the $37 million 2013-14 spending plan, which includes the budget cuts, for the budget year that begins July 1.

The budget is based on a 5-mill increase in the tax rate for school operations — the largest increase allowed under state law — with no change in the tax rate for debt repayment. However, officials said the board won’t vote on the tax rate until its next meeting at 7 p.m. Aug. 13.

The tax rate for school operations falls on businesses and the owners of second homes. Under South Carolinas 2007 property tax reform measure, homeowners do not pay taxes for school operations.

Under the budget cuts, York’s Hunter Street and Jefferson elementary schools will share art and music teachers next year instead of each school having its own art and music teachers.

This concerned many parents who attended Tuesday’s meeting.

York parent Melissa Tredeaux said art is important to inspire students’ passions. “Instead of encouraging this, we’re neglecting it,” she said. “It’s sad.”

School board member Melissa Ramsey told parents that the children will not miss out on art and music programs, although she said teachers will provide the programs differently.

“The children now get more art and music than they did before,” Ramsey said.

Finance director Amy Hagner said the district was forced to make the budget cuts because it has used money from a reserve account to balance the budget for the past three years. Hagner said the school district can’t continue to deplete its financial reserve account.

Superintendent Vernon Prosser said that unlike some other school districts, the York school district does not have a large manufacturing base to create more tax revenue for schools.

The low per-student cost approved by the state Legislature is another factor in the district’s decisions, officials said. The state provides a base allotment of $2,101 per student to school districts. Hagner said the state should provide at least $2,700 per student.

“We have to be resourceful with what we have,” Prosser said, adding that he hopes the per-student allotment provided by the state continues to rise.

Prosser urged parents to contact local legislators about the need for more state funding.

“We need your help,” he said.

The school district will also continue to apply for grants to supplement state funding and tax revenue, Prosser said, and he encouraged parents to help with that.

The budget approved by the board includes a $560,758 increase in total revenues and a $939,243 decrease in expenditures.

Expenditures include $700,000 for a step pay increase, which amounts to about 2 percent for eligible employees, $200,000 for the employer portion of the insurance increase and $220,000 for an increase in operational costs.

Salaries and fringe benefits make up 88.4 percent of total expenditures.

The district also plans to begin outsourcing its teaching substitutes with Kelly Services, which will help teachers gain access to subs, Hagner said. “It’s a win win for the district and Kelly Services,” she said.

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