As we enter the peak of summer, it is worthwhile to look back at the 2007-'08 school year. Much was accomplished because of our talented students, teachers, administrators, and our very supportive community.
Fort Mill is truly a unique community. Our standard of living is among the best in our state. Our schools are second to none, and our growth continues even in the face of a declining economy.
Last year, our school district continued to lead the state in growth at more than 10 percent while our state grew at approximately 2 percent. The majority of the 85 school districts in South Carolina grew at a rate less than that of our state average, and many experienced a decline in enrollment.
To meet the ever increasing facility needs associated with our growth, we requested the support of our community for a $95,000,000 bond referendum. Our community once again demonstrated its outstanding support by approving the referendum by a three-to-one margin.
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Our school district also continues to lead the state academically. We continue to be above the state and national average in SAT scores. Our students continue to score among the best in the state's standardized testing program. Our school district's dropout rate is among the lowest in South Carolina. We continue to have an extremely high percentage of our teachers holding advanced degrees or levels of certification. The individual, school, and district awards continue to be too numerous to include in an editorial.
For all of these accomplishments, we continue to be very thankful.
However, we clearly understand that we cannot be satisfied with past accomplishments.
So where do we go from here and what do we see on the horizon? What does the future hold for our school district and public education in South Carolina?
With the passage of Act 388 more than a year ago, our legislature changed the manner in which public education is funded, particularly in the area of school operations.
In essence, the legislature changed our funding source from property taxes (the most consistent revenue stream) to a statewide one cent sales tax (the most volatile revenue stream). Shortly after the enactment of this law, our economy began to decline. State revenue projections began to fall short of the necessary amounts to meet the state budget.
Coupled with these budget shortfalls was a funding formula devised at the state level to reimburse the 85 school districts through the funds generated by this statewide 1- cent sales tax.
This formula is proving to be flawed in many respects. The major flaw is that faster growing school districts such as ours are being reimbursed according to the state's growth rate rather than the district's growth rate.
This flaw is having a devastating effect on the faster growing districts in our state. Our budget shortfall from the state for this upcoming school year is approximately $2,000,000. The 2009-2010 shortfall is projected to surpass the $3,000,000 mark.
As long as we continue to grow at a rate faster than that of the state, we will continue to see our shortfall increase.
For example, in August 2009, we will open two new elementary schools with approximately 800 to 900 new students in our district, but we will be saddled with doing so with approximately $3,000,000 less than we would have been budgeted.
Most property taxpayers saw significant savings on their most recent tax statements as a result of Act 388. For that savings many of us can celebrate, but the very clear downside to this new law is that public education in South Carolina stands to suffer.
We will not improve public education in South Carolina by bringing the more successful school districts down to mediocre levels. We must find a way to bring all school districts up to even higher levels. The answer is not in "leveling down," but in "leveling up."
The past couple of months have been very difficult in our school district as we have discussed how we might cut our budget because of the projected shortfall from Act 388. In addition to not hiring the desired number of teachers, the administration and board have struggled as we have reluctantly discussed cutting local supplements for National Board Certification and charging participation fees for athletes.
It is worth noting at this juncture that our per pupil expenditures already are among the lowest in our state. The evidence is clear that we have made wise use of the taxpayer dollars given to us, and we have received great results from the dollars spent.
The budget approved by our school board for next school year includes a six-mill increase. This is our first millage increase in three years. Most property taxpayers will not feel the effect of this increase because the burden created by Act 388 will be felt by local business and industry.
Our local businesses and industries have been great partners to our school district, and we hope they will continue to be. We also hope they will continue to stand beside us as we work with all of our local taxpayers to bring about needed amendments to Act 388.
This past legislative session, we worked diligently to bring about needed changes to the Act 388 funding formula, but we were unsuccessful. We need all of our constituents who care about the future success of our school district as well as the future of public education in our state to stand up and be heard during our upcoming legislative session. We plan to work through our schools to inform and activate our parents. If you would like to be a part of this movement to bring about needed changes in the law, please feel free to contact me at 548-8211 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I look forward to working with our community in order to bring about a level of funding stability and continued academic excellence within our school district.
Thank you for your past support and for your support of the future.