Rock Hill school board passes unbalanced budget, votes against 860 new iPads

The Rock Hill school board adopted an unbalanced budget for the upcoming academic year after several meetings and hours of debate over the district’s finances.

The spending plan is a compromise budget between the district administration and the board. The most recent proposal before Monday night’s meeting included $134.9 million in expenditures and only $133.5 million in revenue. The $1.4 million difference would come from the district’s fund balance.

As passed, the budget still has a $1.4 million shortfall. Board policy dictates that the school board “has the major responsibility for the adoption of a budget” but does not say that budget must be balanced.

“(The budget) comes with a commitment to try and reduce expenses by one percent over the year,” said board chairman Jim Vining at Monday night’s meeting.

High-profile items in the budget include an increase for the instruction of exceptional students, a teacher salary increase that was mandated by the state, an increase in pay for non-teachers, a new cleaning contract and increases in the cost of energy, retirement funds, and health and dental insurance.

At two previous work sessions, board members expressed frustration at using fund balance money and increasing taxes. The budget includes an increase in the millage rate that would amount to about $7.20 on a car valued at $20,000 or about $63 on a manufacturing business valued at $100,000.

“I said I was not going to support a tax increase,” said board member Terry Hutchinson.

Similarly, board member Walter Brown said he cannot recall ever voting for a tax increase during his years on the board.

But both Hutchinson and Brown voted for the 2014-2015 budget, including the tax increase, because they say the current state of funding from the state and federal government didn’t leave them with a choice.

If looking for someone to blame for tax increases at the local level, “all roads lead to Columbia and Washington,” Brown said.

“It’s something we really need to work on,” Hutchinson said. “It’s time to get Columbia to step up to the plate.”

Hutchinson also said he didn’t feel that new superintendent Kelly Pew had had enough time yet to examine all programs to make sure money in the district is being spent as efficiently as possible, an issue several other board members brought up at previous work sessions. Pew, the former schools chief in Pickens County, started in Rock Hill in May.

The Rock Hill school board also voted Monday night on several other financial issues, including voting down the purchase of 860 new iPads for $360,000 to expand the district’s iRock program, a technology initiative designed to provide iPads to many of the district’s students.

The 860 new iPads would have given every ninth-grader at Northwestern and Rock Hill high schools a personal iPad, while giving all 10th-graders at South Pointe High School a personal iPad, because all ninth-graders already receive one at that school.

Only board members Mildred Douglas and Ann Reid voted for the new iPads, while other board members expressed concerns about the selection of devices, the lack of data to support purchasing additional iPads and the life of the bond that would fund the purchase.