Beaufort County schools looking at $10 million increase in next year's budget

Increases largely coming from state mandates, growing enrollment

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comApril 15, 2014 

STAFF ILLUSTRATION

The Beaufort County School District's budget is expected to increase by $10 million -- or about 5 percent -- for the 2014-15 fiscal year. The majority of that increase is because of unfunded state mandates, according to superintendent Jeff Moss.

While still not final, the school district has presented a $192.9 million budget to the school board for next year. This year's budget is $182.9 million.

The district has asked Beaufort County Council to raise its millage rate next year to make up a $4 million shortfall in tax revenue this year. District officials said the county won't need a millage increase beyond that.

"In the big-budget picture, we're on track with everything we have control over," said board vice chairwoman Mary Cordray, who also co-chairs the board's Finance and Operations Committee. "For us, it is those unknowns that the state controls, like pay increases, for example, that can really be a big part of what makes our numbers larger."

The district has worked to cut costs and re-align funds when possible to keep the increases for next year at a minimum, Cordray said.

About 85 percent of the $10 million increase is from factors the district has little or no control over, according to chief operational services officer Phyllis White.

For example, the state has required pay and benefit increases for teachers and other certified staff that will cost the district about $3 million. The district also will have to make up about $1 million in lost state funding for several staff positions, White said.

There also are increases that come with the district's growing enrollment, such as adding staff to keep a comfortable student-to-teacher ratio, White said. Those increases will cost about $2.6 million.

To cope with the increases, the district has worked to cut costs where possible, Moss said.

The district is auditing its bus routes to see whether they can be made more efficient. It also is bringing some programs under one roof to maximize resources; other programs are being evaluated so ineffective ones can be cut, he said.

The biggest factor in the budget still to be decided is whether the school board will approve the roughly $2.5 million it contributes annually to the Beaufort-Jasper Academy for Career Excellence, Cordray said. Several board members have questioned whether that money should be reinvested in the district's own vocational education programs.

The board will review the ACE budget in the coming week and hopes to make a decision soon, board chairman Bill Evans said.

Much of the district's cost savings will be reallocated to cover new initiatives so it does not have to ask for more money for those, Cordray said.

The board will include the first phase of a prekindergarten expansion in this year's budget that will change all current half-day classes to full-day classes. That will cost the district about $150,000.

It also includes the district's expanding technology initiative, so all students in grades three through 12 can use a tablet at school by the end of next year, costing about $4 million.

When asked if cuts could have been made to remain neutral in the budget, Cordray said such cuts likely would prevent the district from maintaining and raising its educational standards for students.

Moss said every expenditure ties in with goals in the district's strategic plan, such as making sure all students are performing at grade level and providing greater academic choice programs.

The district will present its budget to the public during two community meetings. The first is on April 21 at Bluffton High School, the second on April 23 at Battery Creek High School.

It then will certify its budget in May before it is sent to County Council for approval in the summer.

"I hope this budget will send the message to people that we are trying to do more with what we've got," Cordray said.

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

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