The Aiken County School Board and district administration will work toward a 2013-14 budget for the next seven months, “and there are too many unknowns at this point,” said board member Richard Hazen during a budget discussion Tuesday.
However, he’s disappointed that State Superintendent Dr. Mick Zais isn’t supporting any changes to the base student cost that the S.C. General Assembly allocates each year.
That amount will be $2,012 for every student in the state. While that’s an improvement over an appropriation of just over $1,600 in recent years, Zais had sought $1,880 last year – the same as the allocation from the previous year – but the House and Senate voted to increase it.
But a formula developed in the past by state lawmakers calls for a $2,771 allocation per student in the next fiscal year for school districts.
“They really should hold it as a legal requirement,” said Tray Traxler, the Aiken School District comptroller.
As he has done for the past two years, Traxler presented “Budget 101” – an overview of the process of developing the budget and how the funds are allocated. The meeting was the first budget session for new trustees Tad Barber and Ronnie West.
Local sources of funding come from property taxes, bond proceeds, interest earnings and donations. For the past six years, owners of primary residences throughout the state have paid no operational school taxes on those properties.
State revenue includes allocations from two state laws approved in 1977 and 1984, lottery funds and student health and fitness appropriations.
Federal funding primarily includes that for special education classes and services, Title I money that goes to schools with high levels of low-income students.
On the down side, the state legislature failed to approved sufficient funds for its own obligations for special education. The U.S. Department of Education subsequently penalized the state by withholding $36 million total for the state’s 85 districts – more than $800,000 of that amount going to the Aiken district. State legislators did made up the full amount for all the districts, but there is no certainty that they will do so again.
“We’ll be challenged again to make ends meet,” said another board member, Keith Liner. “We’ll try to protect the fund balance we have, but we should have good tools to work on the budget. We’ll set the budget with priorities and how they’re linked to the superintendent’s (Beth Everitt) goals or the district goals.”
In most categories, the Aiken district is dealing with less funding in meeting its needs – regardless of the size of the district. Of the 85 districts in 2010-11, Traxler said, 65 had a higher operating millage than Aiken. A total 69 districts had a higher overall millage than Aiken.