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School board passes $49.9 million budget

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By Brian Garner

Despite misgivings about taking money for the fund balance for recurring expenses, the Chester County School Board unanimously passed a $49.9 million budget at literally the last minute Thursday night.

The board held a public hearing on the budget before the actual meeting where the second and final reading of the budget was approved. During that hearing, District Chief Financial Officer Mellanie Jinnette presented the proposed budget and explained where the district was in the budget process.

The Legislature Conference Committee met on June 25 and 26 and passed the final version of the budget late June 26.

Just earlier the same day as the school district’s budget hearing and meeting, the S.C. Legislature passed the budget; the Senate passed it before lunch and the House passed it at 3:43 p.m.

The proposed budget that Jinnette presented to the school board for consideration projects a revenue of $47.7 million and expenses in the amount of $49.9 million – this initially meant a budget shortfall of $2.2 million, Jinnette reported.

The projected revenue came from:

  • A tax increase based on the Consumer Price Index – millage increase by 2.13 percent, which means an increase of $558,589;
  • Fringe benefit increase of $220,159;
  • Education Finance Act increase of $587,873 – this is an increase to $55 for the base student cost, not $60 as was discussed by the conference committee. Since the Senate version of the budget was the one that was passed, the Base Student Cost was $60, which means an additional $27,000. The school district budget revenue item for this was figured conservatively at $55.
  • Additional revenue increase from a transfer from the Education Improvement Act of $292,094.

 

Expenses in the budget include an increase in teacher salaries of one percent, a two percent mandated step increase for teachers, a one percent increase on all other district employees, plus a step for those on a salary schedule that has a step. The finance department was also recommending an increase of $5 per hour for school bus drivers. The $5 is comparable (and in some cases slightly better) than neighboring school districts. Beginning salary for a starting bus driver with zero years of experience will be $15.46.

There is also an increase in charter school funding because the school district increased their revenue in 2015-2016. Also factored into the expense was a state-mandated (and unfunded) increase that is a mandatory 8.1 percent increase to the amount of insurance benefits the school district must pay for each employee. Another increase was the renewed funding of $35,000 for the band uniform program. Band uniforms will be renewed on a three-year rotating basis, as will instruments, and then there will be two years of filling whatever is needed.

The projected budget shortfall of $2.2 million is lower than the number that was presented to the board at the first reading of the budget, Jinnette pointed out. At the time that was a shortfall or deficit of $2.9 million. The majority of the $2.2 million comes from the increased salaries and the increased benefits.

She said the current budget projected a $1.4 million shortfall, but she does not think that will be needed.

“Basically we’ll be starting at the level from the year before, with not needing to take anything out of fund balance to finish the current year. (Which is a potential savings to the fund balance of $1.4 million). We’re also anticipating another $200,000 in health benefits…which means we could only end up needing $611,000 out of fund balance for next year,” she said.

Jinnette recommended the board pass the budget as presented, amending the budget in the next fiscal year as additional information becomes available on the health insurance increase. Many other school districts are adopting this procedure, as they have already passed their budget for the next fiscal year.

School board chair Denise Lawson asked Jinnette how sure she was on that $611,000 shortfall figure and she responded, “I feel pretty good about that figure.”

No member of the public had signed up to comment on the budget, so the board went into the regular meeting, where there was more discussion on the budget before the vote.

After thanking the finance department for their work putting the proposed budget together, board vice chair Dr. Anne Collins said she agreed with Lawson and was not happy about taking money out of the fund balance, “but I trust your judgment, and that of our superintendent, as far as the budget is concerned,” she told Jinnette.

Board member Maggie James summed up the board’s position, saying, “There’s no use postponing the inevitable. It’s got to be done, and we’ve got to do it.” She made a motion to approve the final reading of the budget. The budget passed unanimously.