After years of cutting staff, the Beaufort County School district plans to add teachers to handle enrollment growth.
District officials unveiled a preliminary budget Tuesday before the school board's finance committee that calls for 20 more teachers next school year to account for an unexpected increase of 420 students this school year.
"The economy has begun to turn around and I think we're beginning to see some of that," said interim superintendent Jackie Rosswurm of the enrollment growth. "It is primarily in the Bluffton area."
District officials presented a $182.9 million budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 -- a $4.9 million, or 2.75 percent, increase.
Officials plan to spend $7.5 million more to hire the additional teachers -- at a cost of $1.3 million -- and pay for increased costs of operations and state mandates, as well as account for federal funding cuts. Of that, about $2.6 million will be offset by reductions in some maintenance and operating expenses, as well as the elimination of iPad purchases.
Paying for the additional teachers, though, likely will mean the district will dip into its fund balance. Revenue projections leave the district about $500,000 short, and assume the county will adjust tax rates upward to offset reduced property values after they are reassessed this fall.
This process is known as "roll forward" because tax rates rise just enough to bring in the same amount of money as the previous year.
The preliminary budget does not call for a tax increase aside from that "roll forward."
School board vice chairwoman Mary Cordray, head of the finance committee, applauded county officials intentions to maintain school funding, as well as efforts by state Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, to secure about $1.9 million more in state funds next school year.
"As long as there are no changes in those commitments and no more unfunded mandates from the state or feds ... I feel pretty good," Cordray said of the budget. "Of course, that doesn't leave any money left for new initiatives ... but I feel good that we're not looking to cut. ..."
The district has cut about 200 positions in the past four years, including 30 this school year, according to Phyllis White, the district's chief operational services officer.
"We are at a point where we can no longer cut positions," White said. "In fact, we tried in our original budget to cut 45 positions and we ended up not being able to (while meeting state and federal teaching requirements). And, now, we're seeing enrollment increases to where we need to add teachers."
The budget also includes:
Council sets the school district's upper spending limit and the property-tax rate but cannot adjust individual line items. Council will officially set the tax rate in August.