Sumter school board to ask for all $1.2M from county

Trustees vote unanimously; chairman says Sumter's future quality of life at stake

BY BRUCE MILLS
bruce@theitem.com
Posted 6/12/19

Sumter School District's Board of Trustees will still ask for a nine-mill increase, the maximum it's allowed under state law, when it goes to Sumter County Council in two weeks.

The nine-member school board voted unanimously late Monday night to …

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Sumter school board to ask for all $1.2M from county

Trustees vote unanimously; chairman says Sumter's future quality of life at stake

Posted

Sumter School District's Board of Trustees will still ask for a nine-mill increase, the maximum it's allowed under state law, when it goes to Sumter County Council in two weeks.

The nine-member school board voted unanimously late Monday night to go for the full mill increase it originally presented instead of two other lesser scenarios presented by district Chief Financial Officer Jennifer Miller at its regularly scheduled meeting at the district office.

At last week's budget workshop with county council, various council members told district administration to consider the county's recently projected 2% increase in assessed property value and rework the numbers and its request downward.

Miller and Interim Superintendent Debbie Hamm hadn't been informed of the recent growth change - which will amount to an additional $840,000 already going into the district's coffers if preliminary projections come to fruition - and said they would have to see what their board felt was appropriate on Monday night.

With the unanimous vote, the board will officially ask council for 9.01 mills, which it would receive in addition to the increase from the projected growth in the county's tax base.

Board Chairman the Rev. Ralph Canty said with the vote "it's not the board's intent to collide with council" but that in its opinion a "compromise is not in the best interest of the children or of the county."

Partially because of financial difficulties first discovered in the district in the fiscal 2016 official audit report in December 2016 that revealed more than $6 million in overspending, county council has turned down its millage request two years in a row.

The district has rebounded the last two years, building its fund balance from $106,449 at the end of fiscal 2016 to a projected preliminary estimate of $10.2 million for the end of this year, June 30, 2019. It may even reach closer to $10.5 million, Miller said Monday, based on initial monthly financial reports for May.

On Tuesday, Canty said the trustees think if council turns them down later this month, it will hurt Sumter's children and future, given the importance of education in the 21st-century knowledge-based economy.

"We believe that a vote to deny our request is a vote to deny and neglect our children and our county," Canty said. "Funding the enterprise [the district], educating our children and fostering economic development and advance in this county are inextricably tied to each other.

"We will never be the progressive community nor be able to experience the quality of life that we all deserve nor bask in the prosperity that has long since eluded us until we maximize our ability to educate and empower every student."

Miller said in next year's budget, administration has already made $4.9 million in cuts based on mandated increases in expenditures and decreased state revenue at least partially due to drops in enrollment.

The 9.01 mill request, which translates to about $1.2 million in extra local revenue going to the district, would be used to partially fund a state-mandated 4% teacher pay increase, she said.

The millage increase would have no impact on primary homeowners' property in the county because that is exempt under state law. If any millage increase is approved, it would impact all vehicle property tax rates starting in January and commercial property to include homeowners' second and additional homes they rent out as their non-primary residence.

Miller said that the 9.01 mill request would translate to a $55 tax increase on a $100,000 piece of commercial property and a $10.80 tax increase on a $20,000 vehicle.

If council turns down a millage request on June 25, the district will have to make additional budget cuts.

Monday's board meeting included a 4.5-hour executive session behind closed doors and didn't conclude until about 12:15 a.m. Tuesday.

In other news:

- For the second consecutive week, the board's Policy Committee postponed its meeting. It was supposed to be at 5 p.m. Monday before the board meeting. A new date and time will be announced later, according to committee Chairman the Rev. Daryl McGhaney.