As expected, but not without drama, Sumter County Council turned down Sumter School District’s request for any millage increase request Tuesday night at its regular council meeting.
Council voted 4-3 to keep the district’s millage rate the same as last year based on a motion from District 1 Representative Chris Sumpter. Vice Chairman Jimmy Byrd, Artie Baker and Charles Edens joined Sumpter in favor of the motion.
Chairman Jim McCain, Eugene Baten and Vivian Fleming-McGhaney cast dissenting votes against the motion.
In the process of the vote, council voted along the same lines against amending the agenda to allow district administration to present new information that showed it was just $206,645 short of balancing its budget for next year. Fleming-McGhaney, who is married to school board member the Rev. Daryl McGhaney, made that motion to amend the agenda and later in the meeting also made a substitute motion for council to vote on that value, which translates to 1.5 mills, as a millage request. That also failed by the same 4-3 vote.
Though the additional motions may have been a surprise to some, the overall outcome was not because McCain had informed Sumter Board of Trustees Chairman the Rev. Ralph Canty late last week there were not enough votes on council for even an alternative compromise offer to pass.
The vote marks the third straight year that county council has turned down a millage increase request from the district.
Baten said council members don’t support the district’s children and instead only support keeping business and industry satisfied by not increasing their taxes.
McCain said he “agreed to disagree” with Baten and said the businesses he has spoken to are in favor of supporting the school district.
The district’s school board has been at the center of the district’s news since last year’s November midterm election, when the nine-member board had a five-member changeover.
Since then, the revamped board voted to reopen a school less than one year after it was consolidated into the newly named R.E. Davis K-8 College Preparatory Academy by the previous board. The decision to close the school was an effort to save money after $6.2 million in overspending was revealed in the district’s fiscal 2016 official audit.
The vote to reopen Mayewood Middle School triggered State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman to declare a fiscal emergency in the district since the action diverted from the board’s own fiscal caution financial recovery plan that was adopted less than one year earlier by the previous board.
Then, the new board led a failed appeal to the state Board of Education of Spearman's declaration, accumulating more than $25,000 in legal fees.
This spring, the school board has been condemned in multiple public statements from community leaders, including McCain, Mayor Joe McElveen, leaders at Shaw Air Force Base and Governor Henry McMaster.
Sumter School District’s Board of Trustees has a called meeting set for Thursday. It must pass its budget by the end of the month. The board meeting will begin at 5 p.m., and the first item on the agenda is a public budget hearing.
District Chief Financial Officer Jennifer Miller said the board may approve the new budget with a $206,645 shortfall and then wait for guidance from the state department on where cuts should be made. The district must be in compliance with the state department on decisions regarding its final budget since it’s currently on fiscal emergency.
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