Beaufort News

School board suspends teacher step pay, seeks 1.5 percent tax hike

  • The Beaufort County Board of Education cut its proposed general-fund budget for the next school year by suspending the annual step salary increases for public school teachers in a 10:30 p.m. vote Tuesday.
  • Under the state's salary schedule, teachers typically receive annual raises for additional years of classroom experience and for earning higher academic degrees.

    Suspending those raises for the 2011-12 school year will save the district more than $1 million, said Phyllis White, the operational services chief. The board already decided principals and district administrators will not get step increases for a year.

    But the board's vote to reduce its general-fund budget to $174 million still defies a Beaufort County Council directive to submit a budget with no tax increase. Council voted last week to deny any property-tax increase for school operations, despite opposition from school board members.

    The board voted Tuesday to submit a budget to council that raises taxes by 1.5 percent on non-resident homes and commercial and personal property. State law exempts resident homeowners from property taxes to fund school operations.

    That's half the amount of the 3 percent tax increase initially proposed to council. The revised budget also requires the board to draw more than $1 million from reserves.

    The proposed budget includes more than $5 million in cuts. Cost reductions include increasing class sizes, cutting about 80 positions and reducing budgets for extracurricular activities and school supplies. Positions lost include about 30 classroom teachers, as well as literacy and math instructional coaches.

    Board member Earl Campbell said he would not support a budget that includes any additional cuts, regardless of council's vote last week.

    He compared council members to bullies on the playground that keep delivering blows.

    "There comes a time when you have to stand up and say 'No, I'm not taking it no more,' " he said.

    "There is no way we can continue educating the children that are coming into this county every year without a tax increase," he continued.

    Board member Bill Evans said he worried about the effect forgoing a tax increase for the third year in a row would have on the district's future finances. State law caps the amount by which local governments can raise taxes each year, so forfeiting an increase this year affects the tax rate in future years.

    "We keep cutting and cutting, and we get nickel-and-dimed to death here, and we have no idea where the end of this tunnel is," he said.

    The board also voted to immediately begin discussions of school closings for the 2012-13 school year by asking the administration to prepare a list of schools that could be shuttered. The board voted in February to "immediately initiate any activities necessary to close at least one or more schools" for the 2012-13 school year if council didn't agree to a tax hike.