- Larry MartinState Senator
- Nikki HaleyGovernor
- SDPC School Board
Restore the School District of Pickens County
Since 2003, our school operating budget (the budget that keeps the doors of our schools open) has not included an increase in taxes. It hasn't provided a step increase for non-certified employees, a cost of living increase for certified or classified employees, catching up steps for certified or classified employees, nor an increase in classroom supply allocations. Our operations budget is underfunded and has been for a long time. In fact, our per pupil spending is one of the lowest in SC. Our teachers are underpaid and to top it off, they must spend their own money for basic classroom supplies. Currently Pickens County has the fourth lowest school operating millage in the state at 108 mills (a mill is a tenth of a penny) in SC. Almost every school district with a lower millage rate than Pickens County has special circumstances that allow it to generate funding with a low tax rate, such as beach front property, a nuclear station, or large amounts of federal education money for students in poverty.
Unfortunately, there is no easy solution to our funding crisis. The district initiated a study to determine the cost savings of consolidating schools. If the board approves mill increases, the outcome of the study will be less relevant. If the board doesn't approve mill increases, the outcome of the study will determine whether or not schools are consolidated. It is an issue of survival. The seven schools that will be considered for consolidation enroll less than 400 students each:
Holly Springs, AR Lewis, Ambler, Hagood, Central, Dacusville Middle, and McKissick. Three of these seven enroll less than 250 students.
On December 1, four of our six school board members voted NO to a tax increase, thus bringing us all one step closer to school consolidation. They say they can't approve adequate funding of our school district until they're convinced we've eliminated wasteful spending.
The Freedom of Informaction Act allows every citizen access to public documents. School district financial records are public documents. Anyone who is interested can quite literally look at the individual transactions on monthly and annual reports as well as independent auditors' reports to see where the school district's money is spent. 89% is spent on salaries and health insurance. About 2% is spent on classroom supplies. 5% is spent on utilities. There's no conspiracy and there's no mystery. It's all there in black and white.
Nonetheless, a very hostile anti-tax movement led by political operatives and "sovereign citizens", one of whom has presented our County Council with "indictments" of 1830+ elected officials by his "common law grand jury", has pressured our school board trustees to abandon the moderate millage increase proposed by the school district administration. These folks oppose the school tax but don't have viable solutions for solving our financial crisis. In fact, they say we are not in a financial crisis, even though the district has provided irrefutable evidence to the contrary, even though the SC Department of Education has confirmed that our school operating millage is among the lowest in the state, even though it is common knowledge that maintaining the status quo will result in another school year without technology upgrades, another school year without step increases, another year without adequate classroom supplies. and another round of inevitable cuts.
Since 2003, the costs of health benefits have risen while state funding has decreased. Local property values declined last year. Year after year we have made round after round of cuts throughout the district (105 in 2011 and 85 more in 2012). Our classroom supplies are currently depleted. We neglected the last couple of scheduled technology upgrades, such that our our most recent upgrades for lab and instructional technology was in 2010, with many of our labs dating back to 2004. Our teachers have missed the last couple of step increases, such that their salaries lag behind neighboring districts by about $2000 to $4000 per year. We can't afford to maintain our school buildings unless we refinance our debt and use the savings generated from lower interest rates as revenue for a capital needs plan.
The school district administration recently initiated a study to determine the cost savings of outsourcing our custodial service. Our custodians are worried for their jobs as well as lots of other service staff and with good reason. Half of our school board is determined to provide the cheapest education possible, not the best. We want the best education for our children!
If we are to avoid consolidating schools and eliminating positions, then the only way to provide immediate relief to our school district is to increase revenue to our school district. This can be accomplished in a few different ways:
1--Increasing property values (property values went down last year).
2-- Increasing property ownership (Great Recession slowed growth for property ownership)
3-- Raise the millage rate (we haven't increased the millage rate for school operations since 2003. This is the only factor we can influence directly and immediately)
4--Increase the value of the mill via economic development (Our County Council withdrew Pickens County from the Upstate Alliance and in doing so, sidelined any hope of attracting international commerce to Pickens County)
This is where the 5 Year Strategic Plan came in. We have something called our "Debt Service Budget". This is the budget that pays back the money we borrowed for our schools . This budget also funds "capital needs" otherwise known as repairs and maintenance. When our new schools were built, a capital needs (maintenance) plan was not implemented because we couldn't afford it without increasing the millage rate (taxes). At this point, we can't afford not to. The $13M in repairs that are currentlly underway in our district are funded by interest accumulated on our debt. Otherwise, there would be no funding for these urgent needs that resulted in mold and sewer flies in our schools. Going forward, we must have a preventive maintenance plan if we don't want to be blindsided by expensive emergency repairs.
One of the most encouraging developments has been a recommendation by the district's financial advisor, Brian Nurick, to refinance our debt to take advantage of low, low, low interest rates. The refi alone has the potential to generate around $3M in available funds per year. This would go a long way toward proper stewardship of our buildings!
Dr. Merck and the budgeting committee he selected considered several options for restoring our school district:
Option A: No tax increase. Refinance only. Can generate about 3.2 million that can be applied to maintenance only. Does NOTHING for teacher salaries, classroom supplies, nor technology.
Option B: Moderate tax increase. Refinance plus stabilize the millage rate at 58 mills (increase of 4.2 mills, generate $5.8 million in revenue) . Would allow us to implement a preventive maintenance program, would allow modest technology upgrades, could possibly free up funds for classroom supplies and salary increases over time.
Option C: Sufficient tax increase. Refinance plus increase millage rate by 10 mills (generate $8.5 million in revenue). Would allow us to catch up teacher salaries, upgrade technology, restore classroom supplies, implement preventive maintenance program and to restore general fund.
Dr. Merck recommended the 2nd option with a moderate increase of 4.8 mills. This increase would cost the average family in Pickens County around $22 for the year.
On December 1, the school board voted against the 5 Year Strategic Plan to restore our school district. The proposal was amended to Option 1: The Refinance Option and will not revisit the option to increase the debt service millage again this year.
School board chairman Brian Swords has indicated the board will now collaborate with Dr. Merck and his team to work on the Operations Budget for the SDPC. Trustees are hopeful that the state will pass a Jobs, Education and Tax bill (SC JET) that could provide relief for Pickens County, but folks in Columbia are not optimistic. it seems the same folks trying to sabotage rural school distrricts like ours locally are also thwarting the state's efforts to provide adequate funding for SC schools. If you received a "poll" recently from the Republican National Convention preparing to select a Presidential nominee, please find out which candidates oppose public education before returning your form.
Please help us restore our excellent school district! We need you to educate as many of your friends and family members as possible about the needs of our school district as well as the very reasonable and cost effective solutions that would cost families less than what they spend on school supplies each year!
Thank-you for your continued support of our school district!
For updates about issues affecting the school district of Pickens County, please visit our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/concernedcitizensofpickenscounty
- State Senator
- SDPC School Board
Since 2003, our school operating budget (the budget that keeps the doors of our schools open) has not included an increase in taxes. It hasn't provided a step increase for non-certified employees, a cost of living increase for certified or classified employees, catching up steps for certified or classified employees, nor an increase in classroom supply allocations.
Currently Pickens County has among THE lowest school operating millage rates (tax rates) in the state at 108 mills (a mill is a tenth of a penny). We eliminated 105 jobs in 2011 and 85 more in 2012. The “fat” has been trimmed.
Per pupil spending in Pickens County is fourth lowest in SC.
Local funding for our school district is currently $5 million LESS than it was in 2007. School taxes have gone DOWN since the start of the building program.
Our teachers, administrators, nurses, guidance counselors and support staff are underpaid by $2000 to $4000 or more per year and must spend their own money for basic classroom supplies.
Funding for classroom supplies is currently at 50% district wide.
Many of our students do not have textbooks, which are supplied by the state. But the state says we will not be receiving textbooks anymore, because we are transitioning to a digital learning platform.
While surrounding districts are investing in technology and preparing for the transition to a digital learning platform, we have no money in our school district budget for technology.
Our newest computer labs date back to 2010, while our oldest computer labs date back to 2004. Many of our students have neither textbooks nor technology.
Dr. Danny Merck, Superintendent, presented the board with a proposal back in November 2014 that indicated the financial needs of the school district to be $8.5 million above and beyond our current level of funding.
He and his budget committee proposed a plan to fund those needs that including refinancing our debt to generate $3.2 million and a modest millage increase to generate another $5.8 million. This increase would cost the average homeowner $22 per year.
Back in November, the school district initiated a study to consider the cost benefit of consolidating schools that have less than 400 students enrolled: Holly Springs, AR Lewis, Ambler, Hagood, Central, Dacusville Middle, and McKissick. Enrollment, transportation and performance of the schools were taken into consideration.
A couple of our school board trustees who are opposed to restoring local funding to our school district say they’re waiting for the state to “fund mandates and pay us what they owe us”.
The state is currently working on the SC Jobs, Education and Tax Act ( SC JET) to “equalize” school district funding throughout the state. Unfortunately, the same folks thwarting the restoration of local funding also oppose the SC JET Act, because it too will require a tax increase.
A couple of our school board trustees say they will not approve a local tax increase for our schools even if SC JET fails to pass and insist that they need to “know how the money is being spent”.
School district financial statements are public documents. 89% is spent on salaries and health insurance. About 2% is spent on classroom supplies. 5% is spent on utilities. The remainder is spent on emergency repairs and other maintenance issues.
Please help us restore our excellent school district by signing the petition & by encouraging others to do the same!
Robin Miller started this petition with a single signature, and now has 1,234 supporters. Start a petition today to change something you care about.