Breaking down Tuesday's Sumter County Council vote to deny school millage request

BY ADRIENNE SARVIS
adrienne@theitem.com
Posted 6/28/18

Following Sumter County Council's 5-2 vote on Tuesday to deny a 5.48-millage increase for Sumter School District, equal to about $1,057,121, council members stated their reasons for voting the way they did.

The school district intended to use the …

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Breaking down Tuesday's Sumter County Council vote to deny school millage request

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Following Sumter County Council's 5-2 vote on Tuesday to deny a 5.48-millage increase for Sumter School District, equal to about $1,057,121, council members stated their reasons for voting the way they did.

The school district intended to use the funds to create five new teaching positions with benefits, valued at $400,000; hire a grant writer/development coordinator, valued at $80,000; hire a technology project manager, valued at $75,000; and add the remaining $502,121 to the district's fund balance to build toward one month's operating expenses, according to Interim Superintendent Debbie Hamm.

She said the district's 2019 budget, which will receive third and final reading today, is balanced at $131.8 million without the millage increase.

Chairman Jim McCain: Voted in favor

The school district, and Hamm, has made strides to improve the academics in Sumter County, he said.

McCain said he thinks the school district made progress during the last school year in implementing positive changes and Tuesday's vote was the time to support the district though he was not in favor of a portion of the mill increase going toward the district's fund balance.

And though the result of the vote was not what he wanted, McCain said he was not surprised after speaking with other members of council multiple times prior to the meeting. Majority rules, he said, but there is no animosity.McCain said he supports Hamm's interest in creating STEM schools in the district and still has high hopes for Sumter's education system to one day become a STEM district.

That's going to take time and its going to take funding, he said.

Vice chairman Jimmy Byrd: Voted in opposition

Byrd said he thinks the district is on the right path but did not vote in favor of the request because many of his constituents did not back the millage increase.

"I don't think the time is right this year to do that," he said.

Councilman Chris Sumpter: Voted in opposition

"This subject is near and dear to my heart," he said.

Sumpter said he realizes the importance of a good quality education but thinks the district should find ways to be more practical with its money.

It takes funding to make things happen but more money is not always the best solution, he said.

Be practical with the revenue that's already there, he said.

Councilman Artie Baker: Voted in opposition

Many constituents could not understand what was going on regarding the lack of teachers in the last school year and the money that would go toward paying those salaries, he said.

Baker said he usually supports education but could not vote in favor of the request when his constituents were not in favor of it.

Many people, including small business owners, are not in support of the increase right now, he said.

And some of those business owners are the same ones who were in favor of a mill increase for the school district a few years ago, he said.

A few constituents said they would be more comfortable with a millage increase for the district if it had a permanent superintendent, Baker said. And they would be fine if it were Hamm, he added.

Councilman Gene Baten: Voted in opposition

Baten said his main reason for voting against the millage increase is to send a message to the local delegation that it should work to give the school district fiscal autonomy so it can increase its millage without another body's vote.

"Now that [the school district's board of trustees has] nine members [it] should not come before this body where four people can vote them down," he said.

The delegation should finish the job it started - after appointing two more members to the district's board of trustees - by giving the district fiscal autonomy, he said.

Baten said the other reason he voted against the request is because it would be unfair to approve an increase for the school district though council did not approve an increase for the county despite receiving fewer funds from the state than stipulated based on the state's formula for the local government fund.

Councilwoman Vivian Fleming-McGhaney: Voted in favor

"For me to not approve it would be, in my opinion, hypocrisy because I'm an advocate for public education," she said prior to council's vote on Tuesday.

"My district is one that has been hit hard," Fleming-McGhaney, who represents District 5, said about the closing of multiple rural schools.

She said two elementary schools in her district, St. John Elementary School and Mayesville Elementary School, closed years ago and now the middle school students in her district will have to go to another school now that Mayewood Middle School, in District 7, is closing.

"It grieves me a lot, though, because we've sacrificed a lot," she said.

Those rural kids deserve what other kids have, she said.

Councilman Charles Edens: Voted in opposition

There were questions since the first presentation, Edens said, about increases in the school district's funding, including but not limited to, the money saved because of the teacher shortage last year and the increased value of the mill.

The district had a teacher shortage and saved money on the salaries and benefits, and still has not filled those positions, he said. And the school district included the predicted increase in the value ofthe mill, predicted to equal more than $800,000, in its budget for the upcoming year, he said. Edens said he knows the county's budget is not as large as the school district's but the county has stayed within its budget, without a millage increase, in part because of the increase of the mill value.

And not many business owners supported the millage increase, he said.Though Edens said he supports local education, he said the school district "needs to tighten the belt a little" and reevaluate its budget to spend its money in better ways.

Interim Superintendent Debbie Hamm

Hamm said she was hopeful the district would receive support from county council, especially because the millage increase would have gone toward creating new positions, including five teaching jobs, that would have benefited students.

"We think it was targeting important things for the success of the school district," she said.

Though the millage increase was denied, Hamm said the district is still building momentum for great things to happen, such as a 1 percent increase for non-certified staff, which has not happened for a long time.