Hamm: Raising achievement, teacher talent were Sumter school district's budget goals

BY BRUCE MILLS
bruce@theitem.com
Posted 5/4/18

Increasing student achievement, attracting and retaining teachers, and building a more positive culture in the district were key aspects that administration tried to address in building Sumter School District's budget for next fiscal …

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Hamm: Raising achievement, teacher talent were Sumter school district's budget goals

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Increasing student achievement, attracting and retaining teachers, and building a more positive culture in the district were key aspects that administration tried to address in building Sumter School District's budget for next fiscal year.

Interim Superintendent Debbie Hamm emphasized Monday at the district's Board of Trustees' budget planning session that those were the three main, overarching goals in the budget process.

After Hamm made her comments, district Chief Financial Officer Chris Griner detailed all the ins and outs included in the administration's balanced $131,609,396 general fund budget that doesn't include a 5.48-mill increase that the district also likely plans to ask Sumter County Council for at the end of this month.

The $131.6 million budget proposal includes about a $200,000 overall decrease in state funding since the school district's enrollment is down about 300 students this school year. According to Griner, if student enrollment last year and this year were the same, then the district would have had about a $800,000 increase in state funding.

As far as investments in faculty and staff to attract and retain talent, the district's proposed budget includes a locally funded step increase for all teachers (valued at $702,422) and all non-teachers (valued at $660,000). The district hasn't provided a step increase for non-teachers in at least four to five years, Griner said.

Other locally funded additional investments include increases in employer contribution for health insurance, salary schedule adjustments (valued at $800,000), and the addition of four nurses and one social worker to the district's staff.

As far as investments in student instruction, the district's proposal includes the implementation of an elementary alternative school program (valued at $200,000). Most of the implementation of new magnet school programming such as Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID), Leader in Me and Core Knowledge will involve additional federal funding and not use the general fund, Griner said.

From the closing of two schools (F.J. DeLaine Elementary and Mayewood Middle) at the end of this budget year, the district projects personnel savings of about $498,000 next fiscal year through employee attrition. The district still owns and must maintain the two properties, he said, but projects operational savings of $120,000 through decreased utility costs.

Millage request

According to Griner, the district is eligible to ask county council for 5.48 mills this year after about two mills were left on the table last year, when council denied a millage increase request. The district was entitled to ask for 2.03 mills last year under state law based on the county's growth rate, but county council turned down then-Superintendent Frank Baker in May as the district was trying to get its financial house in order after overspending in fiscal year 2016.

The 5.48-mill increase translates to $1,057,121 in additional revenue for the district from county taxpayers and could fund various district priorities, such as adding six teaching positions as part of a process to inch down student-teacher ratios (valued at $480,000) and making a $500,000 contribution to the district's fund balance in an effort to get the district closer to having one month's operational expenses on hand.

The district projects student-teacher ratios in next year's budget at 25-1 for elementary schools, 30-1 for middle schools, and 31-1 for high schools.

Since single-family homes are exempt from having to pay for operational millage through Act 388 under state law, county commercial businesses and industries would pay for the majority of the millage increase.

In other news from Monday's meeting, board member and Finance Committee Chairman Johnny Hilton said the board's advisory Finance Committee will hold its monthly meeting on May 23.