School board's financial independence best for all

info@islandpacket.comDecember 30, 2011 

Our Legislative Delegation will shortly consider delegating increased fiscal authority to the Beaufort County Board of Education in managing the financial affairs of the school district.

Having served for a total of seven years on the school board and Beaufort County Council and having served as Finance Committee chairman for both groups, I strongly recommend that the school board be granted full authority or fiscal autonomy.

With fiscal autonomy:

  • The board would continue to set property tax rates for debt service (primarily new school construction approved by referendum).

  • Resident homeowners would still not pay property taxes for school operations.

  • Property tax rates for school operations taxes paid by business owners and nonresident homeowners would be set by the board, rather than the council, and would continue to be limited by state law to increases in population and inflation.

  • Sound governance and management practices dictate linking authority and accountability. Granting the school board full authority would eliminate the split authority and responsibility that now exists. Few (including County Council and school board members) would argue that the status quo should continue, that this split responsibility and authority is working, that failing to rectify the situation is acceptable or that giving council more oversight would solve the problem.

    The solution is to elect strong school boards, give them full authority and hold them accountable at the ballot box. In four of the six largest counties (Charleston, Spartanburg, Lexington and Horry), the school boards are solely responsible for all the fiscal matters of their school districts. In the remaining two, Greenville County grants fiscal autonomy with limits, and Richland County, like Beaufort County, has limited council oversight.

    Since voters (resident homeowners) don't pay property taxes for school operations, it is not necessary to have an advisory referendum. Granting fiscal autonomy should be effective following the 2012 election, when 10 of the 11 board seats are to be contested.

    I recommend granting full fiscal authority, truly believing that governance will be modernized, our citizens will engage, elections will become more competitive, strong school boards will be seated, taxpayer interests will be better served, and most importantly, education will be enhanced.

    Stu Rodman of Hilton Head Island represents District 3 on Beaufort County Council and is chairman of the council's Finance Committee.

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