The Aiken County Board of Education approved its tentative 2014-15 budget on Tuesday – once again agreeing on a budget that will have no tax increases.


At this time, the District will allocate approximately $169 million for general operations, and $17.6 million for new construction and school maintenance.


For several years, the District administration has included a wide range of priority needs for the budget. Board members had cited limited funding previously. However, through some carryover funds and the opportunity to “flex” other expenditures, the Board members approved some of the items considered high priority.


As a result, the trustees agreed to provide $735,668 that will provide a “step” salary increase to non-teachers, based on an additional year of service. They also allocated $175,000 to revise the salary formulas for high school and middle school assistant principal allocations.


At the Board meeting, its member also agreed on a consulting firm to compare salary schedules to other districts for many administrators and other personnel, including assistant principals.


Initially, the School Board did not approve funding for two additional ESOL teachers – teachers of English for Speakers Other Languages – and a new science curriculum specialist position. Board member Ray Fleming then successfully spoke out on the need for those positions.


“I can't understand this,” he said. “We're in a district that we take pride in and want to provide for our children to stay (in the County). We don't have a science curriculum specialist, and that doesn't make sense.”


The Board also agreed to add the ESOL positions after Fleming said that Clearwater Elementary School has a population that is 30 percent Hispanic.


Earlier, Associate Superintendent King Laurence said with new state science standards emerging, a curriculum specialist is needed. Since 2001 enrollment has increased from about 400 students to more than 1,000, he said. Those students included 30 other languages.


In other business:


• Dr. Tim Yarborough, the District's high school academic officer, discussed the Freshman Academy concept that he says has become a valuable program, as it has expanded over the past eight years. Silver Bluff High School initiated the first academy – setting up first-year students in a separate part of the school with their own teachers.


Since then, the District has put additional allocations to the schools as they got underway. The larger schools have received a new full or part-time assistant principal and a counselor specifically assigned to the first-year students.


The retention rates have come down significantly, Yarborough said. Instead of coming to summer school in many situations, students can take online “credit recovery” programs during the school year and give themselves an opportunity to pass and move on to 10th-grade.


Another factor “is discipline,” Yarborough said. “We're moving in the right direction in all seven schools with less suspensions.”


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.