“Broke” schools in Anderson stashed $26 million

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FITSNews has just exposed how South Carolina’s 85 public schools districts –who have been very publicly clamoring for money as the budget crunch worsens– have been hoarding taxpayer money in recent years.

A review of online budget documents show that in 2007 the public school districts ended the year with over $694 million in their combined General Funds. That averages out to over $8.1 million per-district. And this is not an isolated or a one-time occurrence. The documents indicate that every single district has ended the year with a budget surplus each year since 2003.

Based on the reported 690,363 state pupil count that’s over $1000.00 per child – or, in other words – $600 per student more than the combined cuts in state funding!

Interestingly, some of the school districts with the largest “reserves” are governed by superintendents and school board members who have been using the budget crisis as a political tool for posturing and a rallying cry for greater spending. Very few have expressed willingness to use their own surplus, instead they have sought more money from the state and local governments.

Among the Anderson highlights:

Anderson 1: $6.7 million surplus in 2007

According to the Independent Mail (1/5) In Anderson School District 1, parents and children are likely to feel the impact in the classroom, said spokeswoman Jane Harrison. “In 2009-2010, the budget cuts will result in an increase in the number of students in each classroom,” she said. “Increased class size will affect the students and could have an impact on student achievement.” More cuts could threaten programs and jobs in the district, she said. “If the budget cuts from 2008-2009 become permanent cuts in 2009-2010, programs will be cut and there will be less employees,” she said.

Anderson 2: $3.7 million surplus in 2007

According to the Independent Mail (1/5): Thomas Chapman, superintendent with Anderson District 2, said his district has managed with less spending. “The district has lost approximately $1.3 million and has been using current budget and reserve funds in reaction to these cuts,” he said. “The greater concern now is the budget forecast for the 2009-2010 school year.”

Anderson 3: $3.2 million surplus in 2007

Superintendent Hugh Smith told the Independent Mail (1/5): if the legislature doesn’t take action, the school district will be a loser. “Next school year may prove to be a greater problem,” he said. “Unless the legislature takes measures to stabilize funding for education, District 3 will most likely have some positions which will be cut in 2009-2010.” He said the answer to school funding was something the legislature needed to address. He told WSPA (1/6) Hugh Smith, Superintendent, Anderson District 3: “…We would also look at not hiring replacements for positions as people leave. Then we would look at cutting programs and personnel with classroom teachers eventually subject to being cut.

Anderson 4: $5.2 million surplus in 2007

Anderson House member Brian White told the Independent Mail (1/9): “We’ve got to stand by our commitment to public education,” said state Rep. Brian White, R-Anderson. “The General Assembly has a constitutional obligation to find the money to keep our schools where we are. We cannot afford to do less and have an even more poorly educated work force whenever we do come out of this recession.” White further warned that “…as a result, [of lower sales tax revenue], schools would be forced to seek additional funding from tax increases to local small businesses and rental-property owners, who might be taxed on property owned.”

Anderson 5: $7.1 million surplus in 2007

Superintendent Betty Bagley told the Independent Mail (1/7): To adapt to those [state] budget losses …the school district has cut back in several areas and is monitoring spending on substitute teaching, building maintenance, energy costs and transportation. To cut back on the amount spent on substitute teachers, principals have been asked to come up with other ways of dealing with absent teachers. A district spokesman added: “We have had situations in the schools where in lieu of a substitute we’ve taken that person’s class and split those students among other classes.” Bagley went on: “We know its hard on the children, they get used to their classmates and their teacher,” she said. “But the economic situation that we are in causes that to happen. We may have to do that.”

“feel the impact in the classroom?!”

“hard on the children?!”

When districts hoard millions of local, state and federal tax dollars and then demand citizens pay more because of a decline in state sales tax revenue, they are simply crying “wolf.” If lawmakers and parents want real reform and meaningful financial accountability they ought to consider school choice. That’s becuase tax credits for scholarships and independent school will save millions of dollars, and leave public schools with more money per child.

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