County council officials predict smooth sailing for school district budget

tbarton@islandpacket.comApril 24, 2013 

Beaufort County Council members predict a smooth budget approval process this year for Beaufort County schools.

The district is proposing a largely status quo budget absent the tax increase or new capital purchases that drew public scrutiny last year.

"I think what they're presenting is reasonable and I have not heard anything from council member to suggest there will be problems with the budget this year," said County Councilman Rick Caporale, vice chairman of the council's finance committee.

A public meeting Wednesday at Battery Creek High School to discuss the budget drew a handful of people, mostly district staff, who had few questions and no comments about the spending plan.

District officials last week presented the committee a $182.9 million budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 -- a $4.9 million, or 2.75 percent, increase that calls for 20 more teachers next school year to account for an unexpected increase of 420 students this school year.

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 state and 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 the iPad purchases for middle and high school students that upset some last year.

Paying for the additional teachers, though, likely will mean the district will dip into its fund balance, said Phyllis White, the district's chief operational services officer.

Revenue projections leave the district about $500,000 short. But Caporale said the district has left itself enough cushion to absorb that shortfall.

"I was happy to see they have a healthy fund balance. That's a key indicator of the district's financial health," he said. "What I see is we've been fair with our appropriations and they've been prudent with their spending."

Finance committee chairman Stu Rodman said the budget was "well-thought-out" and that district officials did "an excellent job of presenting where they are and what they need."

Some taxpayers, though, may bristle at council's decision to maintain current district funding levels by adjusting 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 county council has final say over the school district's budget, setting the property tax rate and an upper limit on spending. Council members cannot adjust individual line items, which is the school board's responsibility.

The school board is expected to certify the budget at its May 7 meeting before it is presented to the full council for public readings May 20 and June 10. Final approval is expected June 24.

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom

Related content:

Preliminary Beaufort County schools budget calls for 20 more teachers, adjusted tax rates: April 2, 2013

Council approves school district's budget, tax increase: June 26, 2012

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