Sumter County Councilman Edens: District too 'top heavy;' money doesn't solve problems

Longest continuously serving council member explains no vote on mill increase

BY BRUCE MILLS
bruce@theitem.com
Posted 6/27/19

Sumter County Councilman Charles Edens gave several reasons for why he turned down a millage increase request for Sumter School District, but his bottom line is the district is "so top heavy" with staff.

He also said history shows more money …

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Sumter County Councilman Edens: District too 'top heavy;' money doesn't solve problems

Longest continuously serving council member explains no vote on mill increase

Posted

Sumter County Councilman Charles Edens gave several reasons for why he turned down a millage increase request for Sumter School District, but his bottom line is the district is "so top heavy" with staff.

He also said history shows more money doesn't solve problems in local public education.

Edens talked to The Sumter Item on Wednesday after Tuesday's 4-3 vote by council to keep the school district's millage rate the same as last year, without even a 1.5-mill hike - which would have translated to about $206,000 in tax revenue - that was requested by a fellow council member.

Edens said the district has too many positions that are not teachers or in maintenance and said he hopes the incoming superintendent, Penelope Martin-Knox, who takes over next week, will do some restructuring of administrative staff.

"If she does, it will shock her how much money she can save, I'm sure," Edens said.

Edens said he and fellow Councilman Artie Baker spoke with Martin-Knox in early June at council's budget workshop with district administration. Martin-Knox attended the meeting.

"I did speak with our new superintendent, enjoyed speaking with her, and I will support her fully," Edens said, "but we were very frank with her that some changes need to be made that should have been made during the last two years. But, they were not made."

Edens said he didn't want to go into a detail and "doesn't know all the ins and outs," but he said some administrative positions need to be eliminated and that hopefully that can be achieved through attrition.

People inside the district who wish to stay anonymous have told him the district doesn't need extra money, he said.

"I know people on the inside who know the finances who say, 'They'll be fine,' Edens said. "And one person even said, 'The problem is money - the problem is they have too much.'"

Edens said too many positions have been created that are outside the classroom. He said he had a list of some of those positions and would email them to The Sumter Item, but he didn't do so as of press time Wednesday evening.

As a 20-year member of county council, Edens said giving more money to education isn't the answer.

He said that since Sumter's two previous school districts consolidated into one in 2011, the district's budget has grown from $101 million to $133 million.

"During that time," Edens said, "you've had a 32% increase in your budget. Now that's overall budget: federal, state, local, everything, but you had a 32% increase. So, there's your more money. Where are the results?

" ... our student enrollment is lower. I just say that to say that evidently, more money is not the answer. And I believe that. Some changes need to be made, and I hope this new superintendent will be strong enough and willing enough to take a look at it."

He added with a 2% projected growth in the county's tax base, the district will be fine, even though that money is not a guarantee.

No support from community

Edens said no one he spoke to from the community was in favor of giving the district a millage increase.

"The support was just not there locally," Edens said, "and I could not justify it, even with their numbers."