Fort Mill School District confronts new budget challenges

jmarks@fortmilltimes.comApril 3, 2014 

— Almost $10 million in new costs and a dip into reserve likely await the Fort Mill School District come summer.

Leanne Lordo, assistant superintendent of finance and operations, updated the school board at a recent meeting on the latest projections for the 2014-15 school year. Final numbers rely on variables including state and federal funding and enrollment.

“We’re still very much in the middle of the process,” Lordo said.

A little more concrete is the list of needs facing schools. Lordo outlined those needs at the April 1 meeting, based on requests from the district.

The board approved money for new classroom and special-education teachers, as well as the opening of two new schools so principals can speed the hiring process.

The full list of needs will be part of the budget board members approve this summer. Lordo discussed an additional $9.57 million needed against $7.74 million in recurring general-fund dollars.

A $1.83 million transfer would be needed from contingency funds; the district has about $14 million in reserves.

There were two groups of proposed costs: The higher-priority set includes $2.9 million for 41 new classroom teachers, $1.26 million to open Tega Cay Elementary School and $1.19 million to open Doby’s Bridge Elementary School, along with a dozen more items. Current employees would see pay raises costing the district $1.09 million.

The plan would bring in six new special-education teachers at $426,000. Other cost increases are: health and dental coverage ($257,000); state retirement contributions ($420,000); software maintenance for instructional technology ($31,000) and utilities ($73,000).

Hiring more than 40 new classroom teachers is a big bump from what the board budgeted for the current school year, which didn’t include the elementary schools opening this fall.

“We started at 24-and-a-half, and added a few,” said Superintendent Chuck Epps of last year’s budgeting. “We know we need the teachers.”

The lower priority set of items are still “critical enough,” Lordo said, to warrant inclusion in the coming budget. The biggest item is one requested by every school in the district: per pupil allocations for supplies restored to $100, up from $75, for a projected $309,000 cost district-wide. That funding decreased in recent years with cuts in revenue from the state.

“This is their school budget,” Lordo said. “It funds everything they have to buy at the school level.”

Other second-tier increases include a new coordinator of teacher evaluation ($80,000), two high school clerical positions ($76,000), a school psychologist ($75,000), an English Language Learner teacher ($71,000), six football and band supplement positions ($69,600), a new painter and lawn care worker ($42,700 each), transportation ($36,000) and four middle school athletic director stipends ($16,000).

Board discussion centered mainly on the athletic costs.

“I just think we should do more in the classroom,” board member Scott Patterson said.

In recent years the board eliminated funding for middle school sports, bringing on a middle school athletic director to handle what’s grown into four middle school programs funded by the community. That hire took away the need for separate athletic directors at each school, but pushed some responsibilities on assistant principals.

The proposed stipends would put those duties on a coach or athletic director at each middle school, freeing up the assistant principals, but it wouldn’t eliminate the district middle school athletic director position.

Most of the middle school athletic director’s time is spent interfacing between the booster club that organizes much of the fundraising and the individual schools.

The high school clerical positions also could, and likely would, be used in athletics. Tommy Schmolze, assistant superintendent, said those needs come largely due to the size of Fort Mill and Nation Ford high schools. Only four division 4A high schools in the state lack some type of athletic assistant to handle paperwork including Fort Mill and Nation Ford.

Dee Christopher, principal at Fort Mill High, said already this year his athletic director handled more than 950 player eligibility applications. There have been more than 150 transfer cases, which require additional steps.

“It’s a cumbersome position for our athletic directors to be in,” Christopher said.

Similarly, Schmolze said, the football and band supplement positions would bring the Fort Mill schools – particularly in football – nearer in line with what other schools of similar size provide.

White said the more than 11 percent overall budget increase being discussed and the dip into reserves is more than what the district would expect in a given year. But, he said, with the new schools opening and student enrollment growth expected, the current plan seems to fit.

“I think the numbers, directionally, make sense,” White said.

John Marks •  803-831-8166

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