Beaufort News

Auditor's miscalculation didn't cost county school funding

The Beaufort County School District won't miss out on any state funding because of an accounting error in the county Auditor's Office, officials said this week.

Auditor Sharon Burris said last week she accidentally overstated the district's taxable property by about $200 million in a report to the state last year. The error was reported to her earlier this year by district operational services chief Phyllis White, and it was feared the mistake might have cost the school district funding determined by a formula set out in the Education Finance Act.

That law, passed in 1977, divvies a pool of money among 85 school districts, in part, according to their property tax base. The greater a district's total property value, the less money it receives, on the assumption it is able to pay the base cost of educating its students without much help.

This school year marked the third consecutive year the local district did not receive money through the EFA formula.

County officials hoped correcting the auditor's mistake would result in money for the district, but the change wasn't quite large enough to make a difference in new calculations by the state's revenue and education departments.

"Despite still not receiving funds after the recalculation, I think we all recognize that the most important element is to have the information correct so that we have an opportunity for our county to receive its fair share of state funding," White said.


Meanwhile, state Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, is trying to revise the formula altogether.

Davis said he doesn't think property values accurately measure districts' ability to raise revenue, because Act 388, passed in 2006, exempts owner-occupied homes from school operating taxes.

"We've got a lot of high-end primary residences here; we've got a lot of oceanfront homes and homes that are on deep water," he said.

Davis' formula could bring Beaufort County schools about $1 million each year.

The bill has emerged from a committee and is on the Senate calendar, he said, but it is being blocked by Upstate delegations whose districts wouldn't receive as much money under the new formula.

Davis said he and other coastal senators whose constituents are hurt by the funding formula will play hardball -- blocking bills important to those Upstate senators -- to pressure them into allowing a vote on the Senate floor.

"If it comes down to raw politics like that," he said, "that's what has to be done."