Tax increase could bring iPads to Beaufort County schools

rheaton@beaufortgazette.comMay 14, 2012 

A property tax increase could be needed to fund an initiative to put iPads in eighth- and ninth-grade classrooms in Beaufort County public schools next school year.

The Beaufort County Board of Education has approved the $1.8 million technology initiative as part of the district's new college- and career-readiness program for middle and high schools.

To fund it, as well as keep up with state mandates for staff salary increases and other rising costs, the school board could vote Tuesday to ask the County Council to raise property taxes.

The board reached consensus Monday on a budget proposal that would include a property tax increase, which would translate into $30 in additional taxes on a $250,000 home, school district chief of operations Phyllis White said. The increase would only apply to non-owner occupied homes.

Under state law, property taxes on owner-occupied homes cannot be used for school operations.

The proposed increase differs from the budget proposals the school board has discussed until Monday. Those proposals called for keeping spending flat and for $6 million in cuts to offset salary increases and rising costs.

Under this proposal, 30 positions would be eliminated districtwide. Those positions, which include some technology coaches and teachers of courses such as music and visual arts, would save the district about $1.7 million.

That's down from the $2.57 million in staff cuts previously proposed by eliminating 45 positions. Superintendent Valerie Truesdale said the district realized it couldn't cut 45 positions without harming classroom instruction.

The proposal that will go before the school board today includes a state-mandated 2 percent cost-of-living raise for teachers. The budget also includes the same increase for all other district staff. An additional raise of 1 percent could be given to classified employees, such as school secretaries.

Step salary increases, given to teachers and administrators for years of experience, are also included in the proposal.

The tax increase wouldn't prevent a deficit. The district projects spending $788,000 from reserves. But the proposed increase would keep the district's reserve balance at about 15 percent of operating funds. The district aims to maintain 15 percent in reserves to cover costs should a disaster occur, as well as to maintain its credit rating.

The school board is expected to vote on a budget at 6 p.m. today in the County Council chambers at 100 Ribaut Road in Beaufort.

The district is expected to present the budget to the County Council's Finance Committee on Wednesday. The council approves the district's budgets, including any tax increases.

Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.

Related content:

Beaufort County school board begins to talk budget; Feb. 21, 2012

School board discusses $6 million in possible budget cuts; March 30, 2012

Parents urge school district to avoid cuts to academics; April 10, 2012

District aims to increase expectations, college readiness focus at high schools; May 14, 2012

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