Beaufort County Council heard Monday from residents upset over a plan by the school board to seek higher taxes to outfit some students with iPads.
Complaints about the proposed $177.9 million 2012-13 budget for the Beaufort County School District didn't stop there. Residents also questioned the value of International Baccalaureate classes and decried administrative salaries and programs they deemed wasteful.
"Spending is increasing, while outcomes by which we measure a good education are going down," Jane Kenny of Bluffton said. "They are running a dropout factory."
Almost a dozen others echoed her remarks, with one speaker after another drawing applause from the 75 or so people who attended the meeting at the Hilton Head Island library.
The proposed schools budget includes state-mandated raises for all district staff and a $1.8 million technology initiative that would put iPads in some middle and high school classrooms. It also eliminates 30 positions and would bring a property-tax increase of about $30 on a $250,000 non-owner occupied home.
The council gave preliminary approval Monday for that plan, as well as a $97.1 million 2012-13 county budget proposal, which calls for no tax increase or cuts in government services.
Council will give final approval to the school and county budgets next month.
Not everyone opposed the school budget proposal.
"I don't believe this is an extra," Bluffton resident Michel Claudio said of the iPad program.
Meanwhile, school board Chairman Fred Washington urged people with complaints about the school budget to offer suggestions on where to cut.
"I don't mind being held accountable," he said. "I'd ask all those people to go online ... look at every program we have, and you tell me ... what do you think we should be (getting rid of)?"
The iPad plan, which accounts for about three-quarters of the projected tax increase, was a tough sell for several council members.
"One of these years you're going to convince us to get a tax increase," said Councilman Steve Baer. "You came close this year, but I think this technology program derailed it."
"I am a little concerned about spending money that really we don't have right now," Councilman Brian Flewelling said.
Councilman Herbert Glaze warned against making broad-scale reductions to the school budget, arguing that cuts now would require higher law enforcement budgets later.
"Let's not deprive the kids of what they need," he said. "Let's get serious and stop playing games."
Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.