Beaufort News

Legislation positions Beaufort school district to pick up $2M from state

Two provisions currently in the Senate version of next year's state budget would net Beaufort County schools nearly $2 million in additional funding -- if the measures survive the legislative process.

District officials are hopeful the money will come through.

The district has already cut positions, increased class sizes and lowered school-supply budgets. On May 23, County Council denied a district request for a 1.5 percent tax increase. That means school officials must find another $1.6 million in cuts, spend that much from reserves or some combination of the two.

"If these funds were approved by the general assembly, we would not have to make further cuts," said Superintendent Valerie Truesdale.

However, similar wording that could have brought up to $4 million to county schools was stripped from the last year's state budget on June 3, the final day of the General Assembly's regular session.

That experience -- and other unsuccessful attempts to reform education funding -- tempers any optimism.

"I'd be crazy not to be hopeful. The point is, what's the likelihood of it happening?" asked Board of Education Chairman Fred Washington. "There is no way for us to talk about monies that might or might not be here, because the state budget process is not in."

FUNDING PROVISIONS

The state divides a pool of money among 85 school districts based on a formula set by the 1977 Education Finance Act. That formula includes property values in each district. Districts with a great deal of expensive property receive fewer dollars on the theory they can pay a greater share of their own school costs.

For the past three years, Beaufort County has received no EFA funds. State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, said he expects the formula to again give the county no money this year.

But a budget amendment he proposed would grant any school district without an EFA allocation an amount that equals 70 percent of the lowest allocation awarded.

That lowest allocation this year is about $900,000, Davis said. Under that proposal, Beaufort County would get about $630,000.

In addition, next year's budget plan contains $60 million designated as one-time aid to school districts. The Senate's plan would give the county about $1.3 million, Davis said

MOVING FORWARD

Differences in the Senate and House budgets must still be reconciled by a conference committee.

"You've got to be careful because some things you bargain hard for in the Senate, it goes into conference and it gets stripped out," Davis said. "We still have a ways to go to hold it in."

To that end, Davis said he is working to coordinate efforts with other members of the county's legislative delegation.

The Board of Education is scheduled to discuss at its next meeting whether to cut an additional $1.6 million from its budget or spend from reserves.

Truesdale said the district will be watching the state budget process -- and potential additional funding -- closely.

"Hopefully we'll have a sense of where the committee stands before our board has its June 9 meeting," she said.

While any addition money would help soften the blow to next year's budget, both district officials and Davis argue that's not enough in the long term.

There is no substitute, they say, for real reform of how South Carolina funds education.

"These are all sort of short-term skirmishes to do whatever I can," Davis said. "But the longer-term battle is the important one."

  Comments