R2 Board OK’s 9.1 Mill Hike

The Richland 2 School Board met for a special called Meeting – or maybe it was a work session – Tuesday night. They didn’t seem to know which it was. The District’s own publicity called it both. The Chairman called the ‘work session’ to order saying he hoped it would be no more than an hour discussion of line items for next year’s general fund budget. Whatever it was, it was certainly contentious as Board members raised their voices to make their points prior to a very split vote.

Staff members from Information Technology were in high attendance, and for good reason. The first hour was spent discussing the need to add a handful of technicians ($38,000 salary and benefits each), a professional Instructional Technology Specialist ($68,000 salary and benefits) and a certified teacher who focuses on teaching staff how to integrate technology into their current lessons and a data analyst ($77,000 salary and benefit.) The District has invested millions into their 1:1 Computing Initiative and the District personnel spoke passionately to the Board on the issue and it was included in the budget.

The proposed $400,000 expenditure for four new Resource Officers to be shared among the 18 elementary schools did not make the cut. The Board members said they valued student safety but felt four additional officers would not impact safety significantly – especially considering that the County provides 9-1-1 support.

The Board felt all employees should receive a 2 percent STEP increase in pay for an additional $3.5 million to the budget. There was no discussion about saving the District more than $90,000 by eliminating raises for employees earning more than $100,000.

The cost estimate to open the popular Center for Knowledge magnet program on the Muller Road Middle School campus increased by nearly $200,000 to $863,324. No one questioned why the increase was needed or if additional savings could be made by housing the magnet program inside the very under-capacity Mueller Road Middle School instead of installing portables.

To attract 20 more students to two magnet programs that increase academic readiness for under achievers (CAP, a middle school program housed at RNE and CFA, an elementary program housed at Kelly Mill Middle School), the Board decided it needed to provide more transportation. So it approved purchasing three buses (for $265,000) and fuel and salary and benefits for drivers (for $142,000) to attract those 20 students. That comes to $407,000 (or $20,000 per student), more than the regularly allocated per pupil cost of almost $9,000. These two programs (CAP and CFA) currently serve 130 students.

Two and half hours after the budget discussion began and after a brief recess, the Board voted 4-3 to accept the 9.1 millage increase that will amount to a $2.5 million dollar increase in the budget. Bill Flemming, Barbara Specter and Monica Johnson did not support any millage increase – though none thought to raise any of the questions above.

James Manning, Chip Jackson and Melinda Anderson said they felt the community wanted great education and was willing to sacrifice for that. Jackson stated that providing for the education for all students is the only option and it comes at a cost that he and the public are willing to provide. Manning citing the continued increase in new businesses to the area saying people come to the northeast because of its reputation and they are willing to invest in education. Anderson said she will not let expensive unfunded states mandates be the reason she and her fellow Board members do not step up to their responsibility of providing education opportunities to each and every student.

Susan Brill spoke after the vote saying she had hoped for a much lower tax burden but felt this was as much cutting of unnecessary expenditures as possible. She reminded the audience that while the Board has approved the budget, it now will face scrutiny by Richland County Council.

The budget will have three readings before County Council’s approval. In the past, the Council has lamented that the School Board hasn’t been generous in providing for its needs and raised business tax to increase the funding of the District’s general budget. Board members as well as Richland 2’s well respected Chief Financial Officer, Bob Davis, will attend those County Council meetings to relay to Council the demands and interests of our community.

The regularly scheduled Board meeting will be Tuesday, May 14 at Polo Road Elementary. Public Session begins at 7 p.m.

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