Beaufort County School District is proposing a budget of about $226 million for its public school system next year, and a slight tax increase to certain property owners to help fund it.
Three-fourths of the proposed budget will go toward instructional and school-based services, such as the salaries of teachers and support staff, according to the district.
The budget proposal is strictly for school operations, not for new facilities and renovations, district spokesman Jim Foster said, meaning the proposed budget is not connected to the $217 million school bond referendums that failed this fall.
In the upcoming operational budget, the district is asking for about $10.3 million more than last year. That’s close to a five percent increase that district chief finance and operations officer Tonya Crosby broke down as follows:
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▪ 40 percent of the district’s new needs are to address state and federal mandates, such as salary increases, retirement contributions and rising health insurance costs.
▪ 23 percent of the increase in budget is going toward hiring up to 31 new employees. Of those, 21 positions —19 teachers, one support staff and one administrator — have been assigned and hiring has begun. These positions will alleviate a projected increase of 232 students enrolled in the district. Another 10 teaching positions are budgeted in case enrollment is larger than projected.
▪ 13 percent is based on increased operational costs.
▪ 25 percent is for other costs such as salary increases for classified staff and administrators. This also includes the third installment of the cost-of-living supplements for teachers, meaning teachers will receive a $3,000 stipend to offset the area’s high cost of living next year. The proposed budget does not include a second installment of the cost-of-living stipend for support staff, which includes bus drivers. The cost-of-living stipend for support staff will remain at $1,000 as it was set for this past school year.
▪ 1 percent is for the addition of a pre-kindergarten classroom at Michael C. Riley Elementary School.
About 60 percent of the budget will come from local revenue. The property tax increase will bring in about $5.7 million more than what was budgeted for this fiscal year, Crosby said. The owner of a second home valued at $288,000 — the county’s median — will pay about $52 more in annual property taxes based on the proposed budget, Foster said.
Act 388, passed in 2006, prevents the school district from taxing primary residences for school operations.
The result is a tax system reliant on rental properties, second-homes and commercial properties paying for the majority of school operations through a 6 percent property tax, which some state and local leaders have called unsustainable.
Roughly 70 percent of the county’s total assessed land value in 2016 was made up by properties that pay the higher 6 percent property tax, said Beaufort County assessor Gary James.
“High-growth districts like ours aren’t allowed to levy property taxes on people who move here, buy homes and send their children to district schools,” district spokesman Jim Foster wrote in an email.
The Beaufort County Board of Education voted to certify the budget Tuesday. Beaufort County Council has to approve the district’s budget by the end of June.