Beaufort News

County council cuts school district budget by $4 million

After the Beaufort County Board of Education decided not to cut its proposed budget last week, County Council decided Monday to cut it for the school system -- by about $4 million.

At the second of three readings for the school district's budget, council set the district's tax revenue at roughly $114.8 million -- the amount the district was supposed to receive this year before faulty projections led to a more than $4 million shortfall.

Council said it will raise the tax rate by about 4 mills to make up the shortfall and return the district to that approved revenue. But by a 9-2 council vote, with Brian Flewelling and Laura Von Harten opposing, the group said it won't approve an additional increase.

This decision cuts the district's proposed $192.9 million total spending plan to about $189.4 million -- or a roughly 3.5 percent increase over the current fiscal year.

"What this means for the district is that I have to cut $4 million from my budget," superintendent Jeff Moss said. "This could affect student achievement; this could affect our ability to expand programs. There is a whole multitude of things this could affect."

The school board will have to decide where to make those cuts, Moss said.

On Thursday, board members identified about $1.5 million in potential cuts if council approved a lower budget amount.

Those included using newly available state funding for literacy coaches; decreasing transportation costs; cutting career and technical program expansion funding; and discontinuing a teacher incentive program.

However, all board members said cutting the full $4 million was too much and would adversely affect the district's programs. They hoped council would meet them halfway and approve some additional revenue to cover cost increases from state mandates and growing enrollment.

Now, they don't have a choice, Moss said.

Other options for cuts considered by the board included removing hall monitors, discarding step pay increases for administrators and classified staff, and eliminating the strings program and athletic insurance provided to students.

If the last two reductions were made, those costs likely would be transferred to students' families, Moss has said.

Several council members, including vice chairman Stu Rodman and Cynthia Bensch, said they felt the district should be able to operate a balanced budget without the $118 million in tax revenue originally requested by the board.

County Council will have its third and final reading of the district's spending plan June 23. Once approved, the district and county will then work to set the exact millage rate needed to achieve the approved tax revenue.

District chief operational services officer Phyllis White and council finance committee chairman Rick Caporale have said they hope to implement an improved system for determining the district's millage. This should help to avoid a similar shortfall in future years, White has said.

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