District has met financial challenges not of its own making

info@islandpacket.comJuly 20, 2012 

During recent fiscal year 2013 budget discussions, there was often misinformation spoken and posted online about Beaufort County School District finances and spending.

Below is factual information about improvements and challenges since Valerie Truesdale was hired as superintendent in 2007.

  • Fewer employees: The school district's central office staff was reduced by 33 percent at a savings of $1.6 million a year.

  • More students: 900 additional students in recent years require teachers, books and supplies.

  • Cost per student: Beaufort County's cost is not the highest in the state, as some have stated. According to the state Department of Education, 16 districts have a higher cost per student.

  • More schools: Six new schools, needed because of rapid growth approved by Beaufort County and Bluffton, require staffing, utilities and maintenance of several million dollars. The district has spent nearly $250 million in today's dollars to build adequate schools in Bluffton alone.

  • Fewer mobile classrooms: More than 60 mobile classrooms were eliminated in the past four years.

  • Lost revenue: The district lost millions of dollars in tax revenue from people switching their homes from non-owner occupied to owner-occupied. Act 388 failed to provide for increased sales tax revenue from the state for these switches.

  • New funding requirements: When Riverview Charter School commenced, the district funded it according to state law. In 2012, its cost was $3 million, and it is budgeted for $4 million in 2013. Riverview students come from a combination of home schooling, other private schools and public schools. The district cannot eliminate a teacher due to losing only one or two students from a class to a charter school, so the only savings is in books and supplies.

  • Low tax rate: The district has the lowest school property tax rate in the state, so tax bills are actually lower than any other district. For instance, the total millage for district schools is 114.7. Compare this to the Columbia area, where Richland 1 levies 284.4 mills, and Richland 2 is 342.3 mills. A non-owner occupied homeowner in Richland 2 would pay $4,108 in school taxes for a house worth $200,000, but would pay only one-third of that, or $1,376, in Beaufort.

  • High cost of living: Beaufort County has the highest cost of living in South Carolina for housing and utilities, according to IRS statistics released this year. The cost of living in the Columbia area is 21.5 percent lower.

  • Minimal state funding: Under the state formula for distributing Education Finance Act money, Beaufort County was the only district receiving no money for several years. Thanks to the leadership efforts of state Sen. Tom Davis, the district received close to $600,000 in fiscal year 2012 and is slated for $2.2 million in fiscal year 2013. Compare this to the $109 million received by the two Columbia area districts.

  • New cost: $75,000 more is paid to the county for drainage fees because of new schools.

  • Under the leadership of Truesdale and the Beaufort County school board, the additional costs, the increase in students and reduced tax revenue were absorbed without significant tax or fee increases to homeowners or business.

    Please remember the increased cost for construction and operation of new schools is as a result of population growth over which the school district has no control. Regardless of the reason, the district over the past few years faced an increasing student population, overcrowded facilities, reduced financial support and implementation of an illogical and unfair state funding mechanism -- which demanded high results while providing minimal funding. Yet it still managed to improve the quality of education available in our public schools.

    Jim Bequette is a retired certified public accountant and represented Lady's Island on the Beaufort County Board of Education from 2007 through 2010.

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