Rock Hill schools budget holds higher taxes for businesses

The Rock Hill school board approved a budget Monday that raised taxes on businesses but did not cut any programs or increase class sizes.

The budget -- about $129 million -- included money to open Dutchman Creek Middle School and Mount Holly Elementary School this fall and to continue funding new programs, such as the Renaissance Academy for suspended or expelled students and a Saturday school for students on the brink of passing state standardized tests.

It did not, however, include any money to expand those programs, to fund additional physical education teachers needed in elementary schools to comply with the state's fitness education requirements or to pay for new positions or materials from school principals.

Discussion Monday centered on how much to increase taxes on business owners and other properties not occupied by homeowners.

Board member Mildred Douglas, the only person to vote against the budget, said taxes should be raised as much as they are allowed to be.

"I'm a little concerned whether the administration will have to come back to us before the school year is over and ask for more money," she said, noting that the board has raised taxes more in previous years.

The maximum tax increase would have cost a commercial business owner an extra $36 per $100,000 of property valuation.

The rest of the board favored raising taxes halfway to the maximum, which amounts to an extra $18 in taxes per $100,000 of property valuation, and taking the rest of the necessary money out of the district's reserves. Board member Walter Brown was absent.

Officials said the budget was especially difficult to balance this year because of a change in the way schools are funded. Homeowner-occupied property taxes were replaced with a 1-cent sales tax that's divided among school distrists based on the rate of statewide growth. Many have said that puts school districts growing faster than the state average at a disadvantage.

Jason Silverman and Jim Vining asked those who attended the meeting to push their elected officials in Columbia for a change that will help school districts such as Rock Hill, which are growing faster than the state average, get enough money to pay for student population growth.

"This issue needs to be addressed at the ballot box," Vining said. "Every candidate needs to be drilled on where they stand."