Sumter school board members disappointed in millage denial

BY BRUCE MILLS
bruce@theitem.com
Posted 6/28/18

Sumter School District's Board of Trustees remains expected to adopt its balanced $131.8 million budget tonight after a third and final reading at its board meeting, but a bigger question Wednesday was the board's reaction to Sumter County Council …

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Sumter school board members disappointed in millage denial

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Sumter School District's Board of Trustees remains expected to adopt its balanced $131.8 million budget tonight after a third and final reading at its board meeting, but a bigger question Wednesday was the board's reaction to Sumter County Council voting down a millage increase request Tuesday night.

The budget for fiscal year 2018-19 is balanced without the extra millage, but the district and board were hopeful for the additional funding to add five classroom teachers, among other items, for next school year.

When contacted Wednesday, select school board members said they are disappointed county council denied the 5.48-mill request, but they varied in making additional comments.

Four board members - William Byrd, the Rev. Ralph Canty, Johnny Hilton and Lucille McQuilla - all said they were disappointed in the council's 5-2 vote. Byrd and Canty took a stronger tone in their reactions, while Hilton and McQuilla declined to make additional comments.

Board Chairman the Rev. Daryl McGhaney and Vice Chairwoman Karen Michalik did not return phone calls seeking their comments by press time Wednesday.

Byrd and Canty said council members had some legitimate concerns with the district's millage request but that their vote is a setback for the district's students, who will not have optimal educational opportunities next year. Both said the cost of education is very high and that the district needs county council's support in the process.

"We need to all admit the cost of education is increasing every day," Byrd said. "When you add inflation and technology, then certainly you are going to have budgetary increases. But that's council's role in this process, and that's the decision they made, and we have to live with it."

Canty said the district's educational system can't move the local community forward without the support of county council, the business community and all the residents of Sumter.

"Education is a critical enterprise," Canty said. "With the 'no-tax mentality' also goes 'no progress.'"

Canty said in his opinion the board and Interim Superintendent Debbie Hamm have been working extremely hard to turn the district around after financial difficulties last year.

Hamm on Wednesday said she was hopeful the district would get some support from council, especially for the additional millage, but said she wasn't particularly surprised with the vote given council's history regarding taxes.

She said her objective is to continue to build positive momentum in the district.

"My goal is to put that in the past and to move forward," Hamm said. "We really did scrutinize our budget in this process. We are still going to be able to add a few teachers just because of re-arranging we did within the existing budget. I think this budget is one that moves us ahead within the existing millage, and that's a good thing."

Tonight's board meeting has been rescheduled a couple times since county council postponed taking action on the millage request until Tuesday. The meeting is at 6 p.m. at the district office, 1345 Wilson Hall Road. The public is invited to attend, and public participation is listed on the agenda.