CFO: Studies will help Sumter school district's planning

BY BRUCE MILLS
bruce@theitem.com
Posted 3/1/18

Given fluctuating overall enrollment trends in recent years and the lack of a detailed facilities' analysis, Sumter School District administrators believe two consultants' studies now under way will provide valuable information for short- and …

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CFO: Studies will help Sumter school district's planning

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Given fluctuating overall enrollment trends in recent years and the lack of a detailed facilities' analysis, Sumter School District administrators believe two consultants' studies now under way will provide valuable information for short- and long-term planning purposes.

District Chief Financial Officer Chris Griner made his comments this week regarding a county population demographics study and a facilities' assessment study that independent consultants have just begun for the school district. District administration has previously said the two studies could help facilitate the Board of Trustees' decision-making process on whether to close certain smaller, low-enrollment schools in the district.

The demographics study will provide a 10-year forecast of enrollment projections for each of the district's 26 schools, Griner said.

Templeton Demographics out of Texas will conduct that study with an expected completion date of March 30. Griner said Templeton has access to a tremendous amount of housing data and building permit data through alliances it has made and also has geographic mapping capabilities. The district will pay Templeton $38,000 for the study.

Enrollment projections are critical for the district, especially given volatility in the totals in the last decade. Since 2010, official annual county public school enrollment totals for grades kindergarten through 12 have fluctuated up and down between 16,141 and 16,538 students, according to state Department of Education data.

Last school year's official district enrollment was 16,393, down from 16,511 in 2016. This year's initial measurement in November showed enrollment sliding another 241 students to 16,151.

Since state funding to school districts is based on student counts, enrollment is a key indicator, Griner said.

In his monthly financial report to the district's Board of Trustees Monday at their regular work session, Griner said the 241-student decrease so far this school year will adjust down funding from the state about $735,000 for the six-month period of January through June.

He said hopefully the official spring measurement of district enrollment in April will increase by at least a few students to lessen that funding shortfall.

For a district that had financial difficulties the last couple years and still has a relatively low fund balance of $885,679 as of June 30, 2017, that funding decline hurts, Griner said.

The enrollment projections for the schools will factor into the district's building program going forward, Griner said. In growing areas, the study will show where and how soon an expansion might be necessary.

The district also has a few low-enrollment schools in the rural, outlying areas of the county, and the information gleaned from the study could factor into the future status of those schools. The topic of closing schools in the district has been discussed for the last couple years at least, board Chairman the Rev. Daryl McGhaney said recently.

The facilities' assessment study will be conducted by Cumming Corp., based out of Columbia, and will provide a comprehensive look at the inside and outside areas at the district's 26 schools and all ancillary buildings.

The assessments will factor in the age of buildings and equipment and categorize schools by priority of facility construction needs. In its final assessment report, Cumming will also provide cost estimates for necessary construction and repairs in the state of South Carolina. The district will pay Cumming $199,553 for the study.

The facilities' study will conducted in separate phases with an initial phase completed by the end of March, and the final phase by the end of May, Griner said.

As far as Griner knew, studies of these types had never been done in the district. He said that's partly the reason Cumming's study will cost so much.

"Honestly, Cumming doesn't have anything to work from," Griner said. "There is no prior facility plan to go from, so it's kind of all from scratch for everybody."

Griner said the studies will give all district administration a better perspective on the district going forward.

In other news from Monday's board meeting, district interim Superintendent Debbie Hamm said Sumter High School coach Brian Jackson was recently inducted into the South Carolina High School Strength Coaches Hall of Fame. Jackson was formerly the strength coach at Crestwood High for 16 years, and he also previously served at Lakewood High.