Board Spars Over Budgets

WINNSBORO (Nov. 27, 2015) – The Nov. 17 Fairfield County School Board meeting was a 3-hour marathon as the Board received the 2015 results of student testing, voted to award teacher/employee incentives and briefly reignited the issue of out-of-state and overnight field trips for students.

Dr. J.R. Green, Superintendent, also hinted that the 2015 graduation rate would be higher than the statewide graduation rate of 80.3 percent once report card data was released by the S.C. Department of Education (DOE). According the report cards, released this week by the DOE, the District’s graduation rate soared to 90.7 percent in 2015, with a dropout rate of 0.1 percent. The District’s graduation rate in 2014 was 76.3 percent.

Green raised the issue of the out-of-state field trip for students, stating that he wanted to provide clarification that, with the exception of four trips – those to the Bahamas, Orlando, New York and Puerto Rico – all other trips will be funded from the school budgets that were already approved. Also, Green announced that the trip to Puerto Rico (at a cost of approximately $28,000) that was questioned at the Oct. 20 Board meeting had been cancelled.

He said the cost of the other three trips (totaling $87,000) would be funded in one of three ways: students will raise all the money needed; they will raise only part of the money and the principals of the schools involved will fund the balance from their budgets; or the students will raise only part of the money and the Board will be asked to fund the balance from the general fund.

Addressing the field trip issue earlier in the meeting, Board member Paula Hartman noted that significant statements made by herself and Board member William Frick from the October meeting were omitted from the minutes.

“Mr. Frick asked to have the total cost (of field trips) consistently show. I asked if we could have both the total costs and the amount the Board would pay (shown),” Hartman said. Board Chair Beth Reid agreed to have Hartman’s statement added to the record.

Green asked the board to approve $100 gift cards as an incentive for all full-time District employees as well as full- and part-time bus drivers, for a total cost of approximately $70,000. He suggested taking that money from the District’s legal fees budget. While this was approved by the Board, it generated a lengthy discussion.

“Why wasn’t this in the budget?” Hartman asked, noting that the board approved the same incentive last year and it should have been anticipated.

“It should be,” Reid agreed, stating that she would include the cost of employee incentives in next year’s discussion of the budget.

“But why wasn’t it included?” asked McDaniel. “The superintendent does the budget.”

Green stated he didn’t think to put it in the budget.

“It seems like we are using the legal fees as a slush fund to take whatever we want out of it,” Hartman stated. “We have budgeted it (legal fees) way too high and have done this in the past.”

Green replied that the reason for the over-budgeting for legal fees is that previously, in 2011 and 2012, the district spent about $300,000 in legal fees, but this has decreased and now the district is in its third year of reduced legal fees.

“I think it is a reasonable recommendation to reduce the budget for legal fees,” he said.

The Board approved the expenditure 5-1, with Hartman voting no.

Also on the agenda was a request by Green to move $50,000 from the general fund to the District’s arts program. Questioned why this expense was not established by the budget at the beginning of the year, Green said there was no opportunity to talk to the fine arts teachers to come up with a detailed spending plan before the budget was set. The transfer of $50,000 was approved by four members of the board with Hartman voting no and McDaniel abstaining.

“When we are talking about transferring money from one account to another,” McDaniel said, “we need more information than this.”