Local state legislators say three meetings planned next week will help them make a decision on how much freedom the Beaufort County Board of Education should have in creating its budgets and setting tax rates.
The meetings to gather community input on whether the district should have fiscal autonomy from the County Council are planned for Jan. 3, 4 and 5 across the county.
Currently, the County Council approves the district's operating budget and sets its annual tax rates. But that often causes strife between the two bodies. For the past two years, the council has rejected the board's request to raise taxes on nonresident homes and commercial and personal properties.
The disagreements have prompted local state legislators to consider changing the process.
Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort, said a committee formed to look at the process has come to the unanimous opinion that the system of partial oversight by the county is not working. But she said the decision to give the district full autonomy or to give the county complete oversight is "so momentous" that public input is vital.
"Our county is unique; we're one of the few that have this budgeting system," she said. "...Other people aren't doing it because it doesn't work. It pits groups against each other."
The committee consists of Erickson; Rep. Andy Patrick, R-Hilton Head; Rep. Curtis Brantley, D-Ridgeland; and Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort. Any proposal by the group would have to win the approval of the Beaufort County Legislative Delegation before it could pass.
Erickson said next week's meetings will not include any presentations, either by the legislators, the county or the school district.
"This is where the public gets to have their say because they're the ones whose tax dollars are being used," she said.
Erickson didn't say if she favored giving the district autonomy or giving the council more control.
Davis said he plans to attend next week's meetings before deciding.
Patrick said he's heard overwhelmingly from people that the school district should not have fiscal autonomy.
"I guess the argument then could be made -- are the members of the school board fully responsible to the taxpayers if they don't have autonomy?" he said. "But they have partial autonomy, and it's my sense that they always want more money."
Brantley disagrees. Giving the school board autonomy gives it the authority to run the education system, he said.
"I would ask anyone: 'Who would be best to run your household -- better than those who reside inside it?' " he said.
Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.