FCSD per pupil revenue highest in state

WINNSBORO – There’s no apparent shortage of revenue flowing into the Fairfield County school district.

A recent S.C. Department of Education report estimates the Fairfield school district is projected to receive $21,803 in per pupil revenues in 2017-2018, the highest in South Carolina.

Clarendon 1 came second at $19,137, followed by Richland 1 ($18,791) and McCormick ($18,139). The state average was $13,214, according to the report.

Fairfield revenues have steadily risen since 2013-2014, when they were $18,023 per pupil.

In addition, more than 200 fewer students are enrolled today than four years ago. Per pupil revenue still rose despite enrollment that fell from 2,652 to 2,421, records show.

Figures in the report are based on estimates that were current as of Sept. 6, 2017. They do not reflect bond revenues, which would exclude the district’s $20 million bond issue in 2013 to build a new career center.

“Projections for FY 2016-17 and FY 2017-18 are estimates based upon recent and historical trends in local, state, and federal funding and are subject to revision,” the Department of Education website states.

“These figures include revisions made since the adoption of the [2017] Appropriation Act,” the website continues. “Please note that pupil estimates are based on 135-day enrollment figures for K5-12 and do not include 4 year olds.”

While year-to-year funding has consistently hit new plateaus in Fairfield, student achievement has not.

The school district has reported generally favorable graduations rates of 90 percent or higher since 2015, greater than the 84.6 percent state average, according to Department of Education report card data.

Between 2012 and 2014, the district averaged between 76.6 and 80.8 percent, trailing state averages at the time.

Fairfield, however, substantially lags in the number of students seeking two- or four-year college degrees, data shows.

In 2016, less than half (48.9 percent) of Fairfield graduates pursued post-secondary study, far behind the state average of 70.8, according to 2017 report cards, the most recent available.

Fairfield’s college enrollment rate plunged to 37.2 percent in 2014, report card shows.

District Superintendent Dr. J.R. Green said student success is measured in different ways.

“It’s not as simple as saying if you spend a certain amount of money, you get a certain amount of results,” he said. “We’re investing in every way we can to move the achievement needle.

“The reality is there are students who can be successful, but not at a four-year institution,” Green continued. “It doesn’t mean these kids aren’t sufficient. Poverty has an adverse affect on a kids’ ability to be successful academically.”

The Department of Education report comes amid public criticism from one Fairfield County council member who recently questioned the amount of tax revenues the district receives.

During the Sept. 10 council meeting, Councilman Jimmy Ray Douglas publicly stated from the dais that the district has improperly received more than $11 million in tax revenues, attributing the overages to inflated millage rates.

Green has vociferously denied the district received any windfalls.

He did, however, say per pupil revenues don’t paint a full picture of district revenue streams.

Green said while Fairfield is a high-poverty county, the district is unique from other struggling South Carolina districts in that it receives substantial boost via the V.C. Summer nuclear plant.

“We are exceptional in that we have a nuclear facility that funds $1 out of every $2 in support of our students. If the nuclear plant didn’t exist, we’d be in extremely poor shape.”

Green said revenues pay not only for educational expenses, but also capital improvements and other non-instructional costs.

He noted that some Fairfield per pupil revenues are actually spent in neighboring Chester County, per a Supreme Court ruling that requires the school district to pay about $3,542 in local funds for every student in the Mitford community who attends school in Chester County.

The ruling impacts between 100 and 200 students.

In 2018-2019, student transfers are expected to cost Fairfield County schools about $626,000, an increase of $74,150 over last year, according to district budget figures.

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