Rock Hill school board requests compromise before budget approval

After extensive discussion among Rock Hill school board members Monday night, board chairman Jim Vining requested the district create a compromise budget plan for the 2014-2015 school year.

The board’s evening work session followed a public hearing to allow for questions, but no one spoke up. Nearly everyone in attendance was a district employee.

The district projects about $133.5 million in revenue for the next school year, but about $134.9 million in expenditures. The shortage would have to come out of the district’s fund balance.

That was one of the biggest “stumbling blocks” to approving a budget for several board members, Vining said.

Under a compromise discussed Monday night, finance director Elaine Bilton would present an unbalanced budget to the board at the June 23 business meeting. Additional board permission would be required before the district could dip into the fund balance.

Several board members were concerned about covering recurring items, such as teacher salaries, out of the fund balance because those positions might have to be cut in the 2015-2016 year.

“That’s a very dangerous path to go down when we don’t know if we can sustain (those positions),” said board member Jane Sharp.

The district did make cuts in several areas, including district-funded professional development for the iRock initiative, the district’s 1:1 technology initiative.

The spending plan includes an increase in money for teaching and staff positions for exceptional student education – which went up from $800,000 to $1.4 million – in order to meet compliance standards.

Several board members praised the district’s dedication to those students. But these compliance standards are yet another example of mandates that are inadequately funded from the state and federal level, said board member Terry Hutchinson.

The school board, who has to cut programs and raise property taxes, is being made to look like the bad guy, said Hutchinson, because the state doesn’t provide adequate funding.

Board member Walter Brown concurred, expressing a desire that every school district in the state band together and demand the state Legislature fully fund the base student cost, as legally required.

“Those are our tax dollars that are down there they don’t send back to us,” Brown said.

Hutchinson, Brown and Vining said they would have trouble voting for the district’s proposed increase in the millage rate – a hike of about $7.20 on a car valued at $20,000 or about $63 on a manufacturing business valued at $100,000 – and dipping into the fund balance, but all board members seemed in agreement that new superintendent Kelly Pew needed an additional year to closely examine all district programs to determine where cuts could be made for the 2015-2016 school year.

Pew took her new post in the middle of May. Several district administrators, including Pew, urged the board to remember that this would be a “transitional year” and asked for the board’s patience in carefully evaluating programs in the upcoming year to determine where potential cuts could be made.

The board is scheduled to vote on the budget proposal at the June 23 business meeting.