Tax hike could follow R2 budget

RICHLAND – The $225 million 2013-2014 general fund budget for Richland School District 2 will have its second and last public hearing (and only vote) Tuesday at Westwood High School during the next School Board meeting, which begins at 5 p.m. The vote will most likely result in higher taxes for the county’s businesses since that is the only way the District can raise the necessary funds.

The passage of ACT 388 eliminated the residential property tax source, and the amount of money that comes to the District from personal income and sales tax are out of the Board’s control.

Those wishing to study the budget prior to the meeting will find it by going to richland2.org, then click on School Board, Agendas, April 9 meeting, then Budget.

The District’s finance department will present three budget options to the School Board based on: 1) No tax increase for business (0 mills); 2) Middle tax increase for business (9 mills); and 3) Maximum tax increase for business (12 mills). Millage is a complicated formula that determines the tax per each $100,000 of business property values.

The 12 mill budget reflects a $10.6 million increase over the District’s current budget.

Under a 12 mill budget:

*Step increase for eligible employees (including benefits) increase $4,479,379.

The step increase is the 2 percent raise required by law for all certified teachers. Historically, the District has extended this raise to all employees including the 36 or so District employees who each earn more than $100,000, as well as to Superintendent Dr. Katie Brochu, who earns more than a quarter of a million dollars with benefits. Meanwhile, some District employees, such as aides in the classroom, earn wages at poverty level for a family of four.

*An increase of $399,352 to hire four more School Resource Officers.

Social worker salary schedule moves to teacher salary, for an increase of $161,439.

In plain English, that means school social workers would receive the same pay as teachers with masters degrees. The Board supports this salary increase proposal as well as Board member Melinda Anderson’s frequent calls to increase the District’s number of social workers to meet the District’s changing demographic needs. But in many instances, the social worker’s job is a duplication of the same services provided by the County.

*Creation of quality & development support staff position for an increase of $111,250.

The Board recently increased the previous budget by $200,000 to expand professional development opportunities for para-professionals (secretaries, etc.). The proposed 12 mill budget calls for the creation of a new staff position (at a cost of $111,250) to track the additional $200,000 professional development opportunities.

*An additional $863,324 for the Center for Knowledge – North.

When a duplication of the Center for Knowledge for elementary students was suggested for the northern end of the District (to be housed in Muller Road Middle School in Blythewood), it was recorded that the cost would be $672, 690. Now cost almost $200,000 more.

*Foreign language in elementary schools eliminated from budget

To realize $1.3 million in savings, the District has eliminated foreign language in elementary schools from the budget altogether. Many Richland 2 parents continue to protest this elimination since they feel it is the hallmark of an exemplary school district.

It is reasonable to expect the budget to have a direct correlation to the District’s academic success and progress. Yet, after almost four years of the Brochu budget, there has been no turnaround in the three-year drop in high school SAT scores or the continuing drop in elementary and middle school PASS scores.

All members of the community are encouraged to attend the budget meeting. There will be two opportunities to make comments to the Board — once before the vote and once after the vote.