Budget cuts invite commonsense reforms in Georgetown

georgetown-budget-priorities

Making a budget is all about priorities (yes, this photo was actually taken in Georgetown).

The public schools in Georgetown South Carolina were scheduled to spend $11,390 per child this school year.

Of the large sum, $4,145 was provided by the state government in Columbia, $1,004 came from the federal government in Washington and more than half, or $6,241, was raised locally in Georgetown.

The Georgetown Times reports that District Officials are now bracing for a $1.5 million shortfall. The mid-year adjustment is result of recent budget cuts in Columbia. The shortfall works out to $148.00 per child, or just one percent of total spending in the schools. Local and federal funding are unaffected.

While the cut may be small, District officials have already begun to make changes in how they spend taxpayers’ money. The Times reports that $88,000 in overnight stays at a summer leadership conference have been eliminated. There is also a plan to save $125,000 through improvements in energy efficiency at district buildings

Georgetown Superintendent Dr. Randy Dozier has argued that his hands are, to a certain extent, tied. He notes that most of the $4,145 in per student funding from the state comes in the form of programmatic or categorical grants. How the money is spent is dictated by state lawmakers and bureaucrats before it is distributed to local districts and schools. If legislators have allocated money for reading programs it must fund those programs – even if the local need is in math or science.

Dozier is right about the irrationality of programmatic funding. Thankfully, lawmakers in Columbia spent the summer carefully investigating the issue. Plans are now being developed for a K-12 funding model called “smart funding” or “backpacking” where state money would be allocated on a strictly per-student basis. Important decision about how and where to spend the money would be left to those most capable of making them: individual school principals and classroom teachers.

Still, Dozier and the School Board are in a position to do more. According to the Budget and Control Board Georgetown public schools spend only 48 cents per dollar on classroom instruction. Spending on administration amounts to 35 cents per dollar, or more than $39 million in 2007. Dozier may be limited in how some state money is spent but he enjoys much greater control over local inputs, which amount to more than half of the District’s budget.

Cleaning up the state funding formula and reducing bureaucratic waste will leave more money for students in the classroom. These issues are themselves just symptoms of a larger problem: government monopolization of public education.

Our social, economic and political systems require educated people. We, as the taxpayers, have a duty to provide each child in the state with access to effective classroom instruction. By confusing a “publicly provided education” and an education “for the public” with the monolithic notion of a strictly “public school” system we have done our children a great disservice. We are ignoring the great accomplishments and fiscal hardships of students in private, charter, magnet and home schools. We have also invited the type of costly bureaucratic inefficiencies that Dr. Dozier and the Georgetown School Board are now struggling to correct.

The author, Tom Swatzel, is Chairman of the Georgetown Republican Party. He also serves as Chairman of the Board Directors for South Carolinians for Responsible Government.

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One response to “Budget cuts invite commonsense reforms in Georgetown

  1. As school districts struggle to find ways to balance budgets without cutting funding to essential programs, I would like to offer a suggestion. Eliminate salaries to board members. Sec. 59-1-350 of the South Carolina Code of Laws states in its entirety:

    Compensation of members of boards of trustees and boards of education:
    Members of county boards of education or board of trustees may serve without pay.
    Each member of the board may receive a per diem for attendance at board meetings
    and may be paid mileage to from such meetings. No member may receive per diem
    and mileage unless in actual attendance upon a meeting of the board. When any
    member of a board is directed to travel outside the county on official business of the
    board, he may be allowed actual expenses incurred as a result.

    In addition to the common sense interpretation of the meaning of this statute, the principle of non-salaried boards is firmly established in South Carolina. Sec. 1-7-970 directs the board to serve without pay but allows for per diem “as provided for members of state boards, committees and commissions.” The reason for this is obvious. When board members become salaried, they become part of the administrative bureaucracy they are supposed to keep accountable (especially financially accountable). Every tax dollar paid for a salaried board member is a dollar diverted from student instructional support. If salaries to board members were not illegal, they would be morally wrong. However, we have the opinion of the Attorney General’s Office that the law “does not permit salaries” for school board members (1977 WL 665442). The SC School Improvement Council Board of Trustees is an example of the hundreds of boards that follow this compensation model: “No member shall receive compensation for his/her services as a SC-SIC Board of Trustees member. The Board of Trustees may authorize reimbursement of reasonable expenses incurred by Board members on behalf of SC-SIC associated with attendance at meetings or delegated responsibilities if sufficient funds are provided by the General Assembly for this purpose”
    Recently, Governor Sanford correctly admonished a school district for requesting an increase in allotment for meals from $25 to $34. http://www.scgovernor.com/NR/rdonlyres/9FC422EC-ACD0-4D3D-A6FE-34E636CEC11D/0/S386.pdf ). I don’t believe Sanford is aware of the salary issue because I have written him and no one from his office was willing to discuss it with me. His failure to correct this before he leaves office may be a blemish on his resume of accountability.
    Most school districts are in compliance with 59-1-350. Of 85 school districts, 33 receive no per diem. Most of the rest receive a per diem of $25 to $100 per meeting. Only a few receive salaries. (http://www.scsba.org/acrobat/forthemedia/boardmemberpay.pdf). The worst offenders are Horry, Georgetown, Greenville, Beaufort, and Newberry School Districts.
    I suggest Governor Sanford direct the Attorney General to re-issue an opinion of Sec. 59-1-350. Then, allow school districts until the current budget cycle is completed to come into compliance. Those districts that fail to comply would have their board salary totals deducted from their state allocation. Meanwhile, there is nothing preventing those non-compliant boards from doing the right thing.

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