District’s surplus rises to $4.2M

FCSD Leads State with $25,022 Per Pupil

WINNSBORO – As the Fairfield County School District’s multi-million dollar surplus grew by millions more, student achievement has not kept up.

In 2019, the district netted a windfall of nearly $4.2 million, causing its fund balance to swell from nearly $10.5 million to more than $14.7 million, according to the district’s annual audit presented at the school board’s Dec. 17 meeting.

“All in all, it was a really good year. You were able to put $4.2 million, almost $4.3 million, into the fund balance, which is always a good thing,” said Andrew Dobson with McAbee, Schwartz, Halliday & Co., a Spartanburg firm that performed the audit. “Tax collections [including $19,437,120 from V.C. Summer] looked pretty good.”

Board chairman William Frick signaled approval over the district’s financial position.

“With all that (capital projects), with teacher raises, with everything else we have to do that’s mandated by the state or we did on our own, we’re still looking at a $4 million surplus from last year,” Frick said.

Dobson said maintaining a large budget surplus helps insulate the district during tough financial times.

It’s also desirable, he said, from a credit rating standpoint. Fairfield’s $14.7 million fund balance represents almost 36% of budgeted expenditures, which Dobson said is a better practice than using windfalls to defray building costs.

“Everybody is starting to make sure they move money over to the fund balance,” Dobson said.

“Bond rating agencies have started looking hard at whether you are continually, I wouldn’t say saving money, but continually adding equity or reserves to the fund balance account,” Dobson added. “That helps your credit. That helps your bond rating.”

Student achievement hasn’t experienced the same uptick as the district’s fund balance.

In 2019, the district received an Average rating, the same rating it’s received for the past seven years.

Also in 2019, Fairfield Central High School students on average shed 56 points, falling from 983 to 927, placing the school in the bottom 25 percent among 231 South Carolina schools reporting, according to the S.C. Department of Education.

The student achievement dip occurred despite the Fairfield County School District leading the state in total per pupil expenditures, according to a report by the S.C. Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office.

For 2019-2020, Fairfield is projected to receive $25,022 per pupil, besting Richland 1 ($19,965), Richland 2 ($15,346), Newberry ($14,528), Chester ($14,199), Lancaster ($13,016), Kershaw ($12,851) and Union ($11,964), the report states.

The district’s per pupil expenditures come amid expensive student trips financed, in whole or in part, by taxpayer money. In recent years, the district has approved student trips to New York City ($50,000), England ($35,000), Italy ($77,000) and the Bahamas ($18,000).

Superintendent Dr. J.R. Green credited the district’s finance department for what he characterized as conservative budgeting.

“We run a very conservative ship over there and as superintendent, I like that,” Green said. “They keep things in line so we appreciate the job they do.”