$1.4 million increase in state funds on tap for Beaufort County schools

tbarton@beaufortgazette.comMarch 20, 2013 

State Sen. Tom Davis (left), R-Beaufort, meets with Beaufort Board of Education members Mary Cordray, Earl Campbell and Geri Kinton in his Senate office in Columbia Wednesday.

The Beaufort County School District would receive nearly $1.4 million more in state funding than last year as part of a $6.3 billion budget passed last week by the S.C. House of Representatives.

The budget now rests in the state Senate.

The increase, which would come mainly from funding-formula changes championed by Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, could offset a projected $530,000 loss in funding for special education, low-income student aid, class-size reduction and other purposes caused by across-the-board federal spending cuts known as sequestration.

The extra funds might also help the district brace for an expected loss in revenue after countywide property-tax reassessment, interim superintendent Jackie Rosswurm said Tuesday.

Board member Earl Campbell said the district could lose as much as $13 million for operations and $8 million for capital projects as values are reassessed, according to discussions with county officials.

"If that happens -- and we do not get the funds from the state -- we would have to let some people go," Campbell said. "That's something we don't want to do."

That's especially true since district enrollment growth will probably require more teachers, said Rosswurm.

Campbell and other school board members headed to Columbia today to urge state lawmakers to reform the state's funding formulas to reflect current tax structures -- to "equalize educational opportunities statewide."

Campbell said he also planned to lobby for statewide early-childhood education.

A $2.2 million increase in state funding last year allowed the Beaufort County School District to cut in half a property tax increase requested for the current school year.

Davis, in an email, said Beaufort County is projected to receive about $3.9 million in state funding for next fiscal year. The district received about $2.5 million for the current fiscal year.

Davis attributed the increase to a change in the way money is allocated through the state's Education Funding Act. Before 2011, the district did not receive EFA money because of its high property tax base.

"Because, the reasoning went, if a county has a high property-tax base, then it really doesn't need state money, since it has the ability to tax its local properties," Davis wrote.

He successfully pushed for a proviso in the 2011 budget that has since become a recurring part of the state budget. Davis argues it was unfair to include the assessed value of primary residences in calculating a county's taxpaying ability, since state law took away the ability to tax those homes for school operations.

The state now remits money to the county as compensation for taking away its ability to tax owner-occupied homes, based on its millage rate.

"We are finally entering an era where Beaufort County is treated more equitably when it comes to school funding," Davis said Tuesday. "The more money we get back from the state ... the less pressure is placed on the school district and County Council to increase property taxes. It's great to see the dollars now going up."

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