School Board's unfunded mandates remain obstacle

  • Posted: Wednesday, November 20, 2013 12:01 a.m.
Staff photo by Rob Novit
Aiken School Board members, from left, Ronnie West, Wesley Hightower and Richard Hazen hear about current departmental budgets in preparation for the 2014-15 budget.
Staff photo by Rob Novit Aiken School Board members, from left, Ronnie West, Wesley Hightower and Richard Hazen hear about current departmental budgets in preparation for the 2014-15 budget.

As the Aiken County School District administration continued with a presentation on its departmental and programmatic funding during a School Board budget workshop on Tuesday, there's a recurring theme.

The S.C. General Assembly won't convene until January, and lawmakers will deliberate well into the spring or early summer before indicating the state's funding for public schools in 2014–15.

There's one thing Aiken School Board members can expect – the instances where the District has to pick up funding for a number of areas.

Tray Traxler, the District comptroller, told the trustees that in just three programs alone – nurses' services, Gifted and Talented academic and artistic programs and 4-year-old kindergarten – the state is passing on about $2 million in unfunded mandates.

The state legislature requires that in the event of a shortfall, the District should determine which students within a category should be served. For example, that could force the School Board to look selectively at academically gifted programming and the summer arts classes called “Gateway.”

The summer program, which attracted a record 250 students in music and art this summer, costs the District $140,000.

“That's a lot of bang for the buck,” said Board Vice Chairman Ray Fleming. “It's nice for the state to let us pay two–thirds of the cost and then tell us what to do with it.”

During a presentation by Traxler, he pointed out that a state regulation requires that each district “shall provide at least a half-day early-childhood program for 4-year-old children who have significant readiness deficiencies.”

The District currently serves about 740 4-year-olds, less than half of the 1,900 children living in Aiken County.

“The (state's) 4-K funding was reduced three or four years ago,” said Traxler. “We're paying twice as much as we receive.”

The District has full-time nurses in 24 schools, while the other schools have part-time and as-needed coverage. The total funding is $1.4 million “and we're pick up more than half the cost,” Traxler said.

Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.

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