NEWBERRY — The Newberry County School Board voted unanimously to approve a 2014-15 budget that did not include a millage increase.
Board Chairman Jody Hamm expressed concerns that without a millage increase the district could be placed in a difficult position due to projected increases in retirement expenses and to recurring technology costs in the future.
Board member Hugh Gray shared Hamm’s long range concerns, saying, “We are called upon to be good stewards of taxpayer money but also good stewards of the district.”
Board Member Ike Bledsoe disagreed with that approach.
“What I see is not a revenue problem but we have a spending problem,” Bledsoe said. “With $11.9 million in the fund balance I see no need to go back to the taxpayers (for millage funding).”
Bledsoe said he heard a vocal objection from his constituents on the matter.
Calling it a dangerous trend, Bledsoe said he wanted to be cautious about a millage increase and warned of underfunded and unfunded mandates.
Board member Lucy Anne Meetze was reluctant to add millage this year because the county is undergoing reassessment.
Board member Lee Attaway said he shared Meetze’s concern though he also remained mindful of the need for recurring funds.
“The elephant in the room for me is the cost of technology in the coming years,” Hamm said. “We either need an influx of recurring money (to compensate) or we need to free up budget funds so we (can fund technology).”
After discussion, the board approved a $47,289,174 budget that included no mils of increase. The budget contained a $434,434 difference from expenditures and revenues which could be potentially addressed by fund balance use. According to district CFO Susan Dowd, the audited fund balance as of June 20, 2013 was $11.89 million.
According to Dowd, there is an estimated increase in budgeted state revenue of $2,145,600 and the district received a consumer price index related increase of 1.46 percent.Projected expenditure increases included $285,859 in Wireless Overlay paid with state’s funds through the Governor’s initiative and $234,2000 for mobile devices for students in grades 6-12.
Other projected increases included $200,000 for health insurance; $175,000 for additional retirement increases; $70,000 for continuation of the Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) program; a $562,109 increase in technology funding and funds being needed to offset $600,000 in reduced Education Improvement Act funds.
Step pay increases for teachers, classified personnel, building level administration and district level administration totalled $515,000.
In other news:
• The board approved the district’s minority business enterprise plan. State procurement code requires all state agencies have such a plan in place. The plan includes making the district procurement coordinator the MBE liaison officer to maintain a directory of minority firms who wish to conduct business with the district and who maintains an informal bidder’s list to ensure that minority firms are given an equal opportunity to land contracts. Under the plan, progress reports are submitted to the board every six months.
• Assistant Superintendent Jim Suber gave a monthly executive summary on Phase two of Career Center Renovations. He said everything was on schedule. Demolition is underway; new lighting devices are being delivered and stored at the building; and new HVAC units are being delivered and stored there. New doorways were cut into the front of the building. Repair of one hour firewalls is underway. Fire alarm conduit is in and they are currently pulling wire and that new walls are being constructed.
• The board unanimously approved the recommendation to accept the low bid from the SC School Board Insurance Trust in the amount of $444,971 to provide Property and Casualty and Workman’s Compensation insurance services for the 2014-2015 school year.
• The board unanimously approved teacher recommendations.
• Policy DBJ concerning general budget transfers passed unanimously.
Newberry County Superintendent of Schools Bennie Bennett said the district plans to hold an open house for the new district office building before the 2014-15 school year begins on August 18.
Bennett recognized Allison Stribble and Lindsay Folk, two new principal hires within the district.
He also shared lessons learned from an I3 conference he attended along with school principals and district office staff.
Among the things learned was reminder how districts must to stay up-to-date with students’ access to technology.
Suber and Bennett attended a session about a Michigan district that uses IPads in kindergarten instruction.
“We are at a good point and have added in funds for a wireless overlay in the district but this is an issue (technology) that will continue to come back to the forefront,” Bennett said.
“This is an exciting time but an expensive time so we must be proactive (in our planning) because technology-related expenses will recur each year.”
Board member Clyde Hill asked about students being left behind who may have poor reading skills but did feel comfortable using technology. Bennett mentioned the read to succeed initiative of Gov. Nikki Haley and reading coach initiative as well as reading camps as programs being used to mitigate summer learning loss and help with reading instruction.
NHS Assistant Principal Kyle Cannon mentioned the struggle schools have to recoup fees for students who do not turn textbooks back in at the end of a course. Hamm expressed concern that technology could be sold and the district could accrue losses that way but was assured security measures would be in place to help minimize the likelihood of theft if/when a 1:1 initiative comes into being.
Suber said the conference presenters told them if a district does not have a 1:1 technology/student ratio program in place that it is getting behind the curve and in three to four years publishing companies project students no longer will use print textbooks but instead will rely upon mobile devices to access education materials.