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Sumter County Council Vice Chairman Byrd: Time to 'move forward' with school district

Byrd says he's ready for monthly meetings with school board

BY BRUCE MILLS
bruce@theitem.com
Posted 7/11/19

Sumter County Council Vice Chairman Jimmy Byrd doesn't want to rehash the past.

After council's 4-3 vote on June 25 to deny Sumter School District's request to increase the millage rate, Byrd told The Sumter Item on Tuesday the goal now needs to …

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Sumter County Council Vice Chairman Byrd: Time to 'move forward' with school district

Byrd says he's ready for monthly meetings with school board

Posted

Sumter County Council Vice Chairman Jimmy Byrd doesn't want to rehash the past.

After council's 4-3 vote on June 25 to deny Sumter School District's request to increase the millage rate, Byrd told The Sumter Item on Tuesday the goal now needs to be an improved working relationship between the two governmental bodies.

During the first half of June, the majority of council told district administration and the school district's Board of Trustees twice in public forums to lower its millage request - a millage rate is the calculation used to determine local taxes - from an original 9.01 mills. On June 20, they said any compromise offer didn't have enough votes to pass either.

The district's finances have been under scrutiny since its fiscal 2016 audit report revealed $6.2 million in overspending, draining the district's general fund balance to $106,449.

In the last two-plus years, the district has rebuilt the general fund balance and is projected to have in excess of $10 million when the 2019 audit report is released in December.

In March, state Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman elevated the district's financial declaration from fiscal caution to fiscal emergency after the school board diverted from its own financial recovery plan with a vote to reopen Mayewood Middle School. The school board voted in April 2018 to close Mayewood Middle and F.J. DeLaine Elementary School in Wedgefield due to what it said was low enrollment and in an effort to save money.

Byrd, fellow Republican council members Artie Baker and Charles Edens and Democrat Chris Sumpter voted against the original request on June 25 to raises taxes and against amending the agenda to allow district administration to present new information that showed it just $206,645 short of balancing its budget for next year.

Byrd said Tuesday the other three council members have already stated their reasoning to The Sumter Item - which has been giving council members the space to publicly do so - for voting down a tax increase.

"It's over with," he said, and he's ready to move forward.

Byrd wants moving forward to include monthly meetings between council's Education Liaison Committee, of which he is a member with Sumpter and Chairman Jim McCain, and a similar committee from the school board and district administration.

Due to "miscommunication" or other reasons, those meetings didn't happen last year, Byrd said, but McCain wants them to happen. Byrd said he is on board.

He said the district's new superintendent, Penelope Martin-Knox, who started July 1, and finance staff will be welcome to attend those meetings, as well.

"You get to know each other," Byrd said, "and we might find out some stuff we don't know on both sides. That's all it's about. We live together. We're neighbors. We understand the community, and we need to be on the same team, and we want to be," he said. "Like I say, it's over with, so let's move forward and try to improve education for all Sumter County going forward."

He said by working together that council and the district may come to an agreement early next year.

"Maybe in January, February, we will already have our minds made up on what they need, and we won't have any issues," Byrd said. "That's what our goal is now - let's move forward."

This year marked the third consecutive year that council has denied a millage rate hike request from the district.

Fleming-McGhaney also says time to move forward

Councilwoman Vivian Fleming-McGhaney, a Democrat who was in support of the millage increase, spoke Wednesday and said she had hoped a compromise could have been reached, but she's ready to put the issue to bed.

Fleming-McGhaney said her constituents were in support of a millage increase and after the state had already provided a lot of support with funding the teacher pay raises, she felt the county should have also responded favorably.

She said she also understands taxes are a "balancing act," but everyone contributes to the process in some manner.

Fleming-McGhaney added she hopes Sumter County can move forward in love.

"I just have a fundamental premise about the way I do things," she said, "and I never want to hurt anyone, and I do things in love. And, I'm not seeing enough of that. We criticize each other so harshly, before trying to see through the other person's eyes."

McGhaney is a long-time council member and is also a school district employee. State ethics officials have told her in the past she does not need to recuse herself from these millage votes because she does not have anything to directly, personally gain.

The other two in support of the tax hike included McCain and Eugene Baten, both Democrats.