School Board Tackles Possible Tax Increase

Although at least one member of the Fairfield County School Board has gone on record against the possibility, the Board is currently looking at a 2012-2013 budget that could include a tax increase of 3 mills.

The proposed budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year is $33,068,140, a 0.5 percent increase over the 2011-2012 original operating general fund budget of $32,905,211.

The original proposed budget presented by administration to the Board two weeks ago would have required no tax increase, but several changes suggested by the Board left them $114,000 shy of a balanced budget. The revised budget, presented last week, included a millage increase that more than made up the difference.

The proposed tax increase would inject an additional $279,000 into the budget, leaving approximately $165,653 to be earmarked.

“For the record, I am opposed to any tax increase at this point,” Board member Bobby Cunningham said during the May 29 meeting.

Cunningham asked Kevin Robinson, Director of Finance, if the difference could be taken out of the District’s fund balance in order to avoid a tax increase. Robinson said he could not recommend such an action.

Robinson later told The Voice that District policy requires a fund balance that is between 12 and 14 percent of the budget. Taking money out of that pool would not only require a policy change, but could also make it more difficult for the District to borrow money in the future.

Dr. David Eubanks, interim superintendent, explained some of the line item changes by the Board that led to the need for a millage increase. Those changes included:

$9,000 in software licensing fees for BoardDocs;

$56,940 for student field trips;

$107,707 in legal fees;

$18,600 for five summer interns;

$40,000 to open school libraries during the summer;

$5,600 to implement the random drug testing policy for extracurricular activities; and

$10,500 to contract with USC for an athletic trainer.

One of the budget items discussed May 29 was the athletics budget, which includes $269,500 in stipends.

“I don’t think we’re saying athletics is not valuable,” Andrea Harrison, Board Chairwoman, said, “but how many students do we have going to college on academic scholarships versus athletic scholarships? Given our present state of finances, what would be available to offer incentives for academics?”

Robinson said the more than $165,000 left over from the proposed millage increase would be available.

“Is our only viable option to increase millage?” Harrison asked.

“It’s not the only option, but probably the most feasible,” Robinson said. “We don’t want to take money out of the fund balance.”

Board member Danielle Miller said the athletic stipends were just that, and not salaries. For most of stipend recipients, this is the only money they receive all year for their efforts.

“Is it possible to go back through this budget and squeeze wherever we need to squeeze?” Harrison asked. “I’m not by any means beating up on the athletic department, but it doesn’t make sense if I played football in high school, but when I graduated I couldn’t read.”

Contrary to Robinson’s assessment of the fund balance, Eubanks suggested a one-time dip into the fund balance would not be such a bad idea.

“One option you have is to balance the budget using cash,” Eubanks said. “Last year, you gave out bonuses using cash. If you busy up the budget with incentives, something else will have to go; the budget is that tight.”

The Board voted 5-0 May 29 to accept the first reading of the budget.

“We feel very positive about our budget,” Eubanks said this week. “Our approach was to bring a balanced budget to the Board and we will move forward as the Board deems appropriate.”

A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for June 19 at 6 p.m. at the District Office.