The legislature's major task each year is to provide and fund a budget in order for state government to function. As you can imagine, the decisions they make have a huge impact on what we are able do. The budget is, by law, to be in place by July 1. They have six months to design one. This year, however, they could not come to agreement until the 11th hour.
On Thursday, June 28, the two houses voted on what the conference committee brought them. We learned just after lunch that they had removed a $20 million line item from education, the Index of Tax Paying Ability (ITA) hold-harmless provision. This money is to equalize funding for school districts in the state that are heavily residential/low in commercial or manufacturing tax base. This became necessary since Act 388 six years ago removed residential property taxes for school district general fund use. This cost our District $1,067,872 - a huge loss.
As soon as we heard what was happening, we emailed and called several of our local legislators to be sure they understood the impact on us and all of Spartanburg County. Together, the seven districts lost $2,318,957. None of our legislators knew the impact, and it was too late to stop the train wreck. We learned that even Harvey Peeler, the vice-chair of the Senate Finance Committee and Senate Majority Leader, did not know they had removed his attempt to help the Cleveland Park victims pay their medical expenses.
So, our Board meeting agenda to approve next year's budget that evening changed drastically. We could not ask the Board to give final approval to a budget that we knew was over a million dollars short, so a continuing resolution was substituted. This means we will continue using the 2011-12 budget figures until we can plan how to make up the loss we experienced. We can either reduce expenditures, increase the local millage rate, go deeper into our fund balance, or a combination of the three. The only increases we had asked the Board for were to match the 2% salary increase the legislature funded for teachers with all our employees, eight additional teaching positions, 5% more for utilities and $60,000 to fund the virtual school; the additional employees with fringe was about $370,000. There is not much to cut.
We will schedule another meeting of the Board when all the smoke in Columbia has cleared. The Governor may veto portions of or the entire budget within five working days, and the legislature will return to either override or sustain the vetoes before we have our actual numbers.
We will work it out and survive, but two senators made comments recently that are germane to this situation: "What you send to Columbia is what you get from Columbia," and "Elections have consequences." As of this budget, we will most likely be the district in South Carolina with the lowest per pupil expenditure and highest pupil/teacher ratio. Only by the expertise and dedication of outstanding employees and the blessing of good families who choose to live here are we able to continue to produce well-educated students.