Beaufort County Council briefly considered delaying passage of the school district’s new budget until the school board promised it wouldn't ask taxpayers for more money until at least 2019.
Southern Hilton Head Island council member Stu Rodman floated the idea at last week's council meeting, citing an already crowded Nov. 6 ballot on which the county has two referendums of its own. A third referendum from the school board would “create voter fatigue and be a problem for us,” Rodman said.
County Council is already holding one referendum — adding a penny of tax to every dollar spent in the county to fund $120 million in road projects, including widening of the Hilton Head Island bridges.
It is considering a second, which would allow the county to borrow up to $25 million for land preservation.
At the May 14 meeting, other council members pushed back against Rodman's proposal, arguing it would send the wrong message to the board, parents and students.
"It reminds me of two divorced parents fighting over alimony," council member Tabor Vaux said. "It'll only hurt the children."
Vaux suggested passing a resolution asking the board to wait or simply calling school board members and discouraging them from holding another referendum so soon after last month's, which failed by 72 percent. That $76-million proposal would have, among other things, funded building a new school to alleviate overcrowding in Bluffton schools.
Council chairman Paul Sommerville said that "everyone likes leverage," but that Rodman's suggestion "was very inappropriate in this context."
Council member Brian Flewelling said that while the board had a “proven track record of failing over and over and over again,” Rodman's proposal could foster animosity between the council and the school board. Flewelling acknowledged a third referendum could impact council's two questions.
Rodman, who served on the school board briefly in the mid-2000s, withdrew his motion.
Council then unanimously passed a first reading of the district’s budget.
Rodman offered a closing comment that indicated his concern still lingered.
"Good luck happens to those that leave very little to chance and we are dealing with a Board of Education that in the public eye is totally dysfunctional and no telling what they’re going to do because they operate on a 6-5 (vote)," he said, referring to the board's two factions. A majority supports superintendent Jeff Moss, who announced his resignation last week. A minority opposes him.
"So fine," Rodman said. "We can defer this. We can take it up later, but I may bring it back."
County council will have two more readings of the school district’s budget.
On Thursday, Rodman reiterated that he wants to know what the board's intentions are.
"I would be disappointed if they didn’t answer that question in the very near future," he said.
School district's budget
On May 15, the school board approved its $241.3 million operating budget for next year's public school system. The budget is strictly for school operations, not for new facilities and renovations.
About 60 percent of the budget will come from local revenue, district documents show. And about three-fourths of the budget will go toward instructional and school-based services, such as the salaries of teachers and support staff.
Each of the district’s employee groups will see a boost in pay:
- Certified (teachers, school counselors, literacy and numeracy coaches): A state-mandated step increase on the district’s salary schedule, a state-mandated 1 percent cost-of-living raise and a $5,000 locality supplement — up from a $3,000 supplement in the 2017-18 school year
- Classified (bus drivers, teacher's assistants, bookkeepers, nurses, social workers): a non-mandated step increase on the district’s salary schedule, a non-mandated 2 percent cost-of-living raise, a $1,500 locality supplement — up from a $1,000 supplement in the 2017-18 school year
- Administrative (principals, assistant principals, district office directors, instructional coordinators and officers): a non-mandated step increase on the district’s salary schedule, a non-mandated 2 percent cost-of-living raise and a $1,500 locality supplement —up from a $1,000 supplement in the 2017-18 school year
Two proposed amendments to the budget failed.
One, made by board member Joseph Dunkle, would have added $100,000 to the budget in case the board hires an outside consultant to assess the district’s attendance zoning, a hot topic that will likely become even more contentious as the board scrambles for a plan in the wake of their failed $76 million referendum last month.
Dunkle’s motion failed 5-5-1, with members voting according to their typical alliances and board member Evva Anderson abstaining.
A second motion made by board member JoAnn Orischak would have reallocated the administrative staff’s 2 percent raises to positions that are hard-to-fill, such as bus drivers.
The motion failed in a 4-6-1 vote. Board members Orischak, John Dowling, David Striebinger and Christina Gwozdz supported the motion. Members Dunkle, Mary Cordray, Earl Campbell, Cynthia Gregory-Smalls, Bill Payne and Geri Kinton opposed and Anderson abstained.