The Beaufort County School District, grappling with inaccurate funding projections for this fiscal year and unfunded state mandates that kick in next year, is asking for $10 million more in county funding. That would increase county taxes by a yet-to-be-determined dollar figure.
Some members of Beaufort County Council, including Jerry Stewart and Stu Rodman, say the request is too large and are encouraging the district to identify places to cut. We agree that the school district is asking for too much and must be mindful of its effect on taxpayers.
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That’s not to say that no increase is warranted. On the contrary, the district needs an increase to cover the current $4 million shortfall caused by poor projections that were provided by Beaufort County. Last summer, County Council approved a school budget that anticipated $114.8 million in tax collections. But the projections were wrong, leaving the district more than $4 million short in revenue. The school district should not be punished for the county’s inability to correctly gauge tax proceeds. The money should be restored, at least partially.
The district also needs more money to accommodate its growing student population and to pay for employee pay increases mandated by the state. There’s simply no way around these hikes. And frankly, we’re pleased to see that our local school district is sought after by families.
If County Council decides to fully cover the district’s shortfall and pay for all enrollment increases and employee pay increases, that leaves about $1.5 million that the school district would need to cut.
The district is currently investigating ways to do just that, said Phyllis White, the district’s chief operational services officer. One possibility is decreasing the number of school bus stops inside gated communities.
Another is to delay the expansion of some programs, including one that seeks to put a district-issued tablet in the hands of each middle and high school student by the end of next school year.
The tablet initiative is a good one. But it’s worth considering implementing it over a longer time period. Increasing the time frame is not ideal — but neither is the potential of a tax increase on residents. And requiring students to walk farther to get to a bus stop is an inconvenience for families — but so is increasing their tax burden.
It’s up to the school district to not only advocate for its more than 20,000 students, but to prove to the public that it can make tough cuts and live within its means — just as its taxpayers must do.