By Bill Evans
We have come to the end of the school year, students and families are getting in some vacation and teachers are trying to squeeze in some down time between college classes and other professional development opportunities. This has been a very busy six months but there is still much to do over the summer to close out the year and prepare for the renewal of classes in August.
The budget preparation has come to end in regards to the school district’s responsibilities. The proposal has been sent to the Beaufort County Council, has been reviewed twice and will came up for the third and final reading on June 27. The budget, as other articles have discussed, is approximately $174 million in operating funds (less than last year) and required numerous program reductions, the use of close to $6 million from the district reserves and included no salary increases for any employees. County Council approved the $174 million budget; the revenue side may not be established until sometime in August, which is when the millage and collection rates have been set for the last several years.
One financial decision still in discussion is the correct interpretation of the district’s participation in the New River TIF (Tax increment Finance) plan, which helped to establish the infrastructure for the area around the USCB and TCL campuses in the New River/Okatie region. The issue is complicated but essentially comes down to two points of contention: first, have the mechanics of the process been handled correctly? (there is no issue about errors only one of process); and second, has the district been properly compensated for the increase in student population in this area as the TIF agreement requires? This issue was addressed by the County Council when members denied the 1.8 percent tax increase request that would have brought in about $2 million. Now the school district will have to tap into its reserves to cover these costs.
Also of note is the significant work Senator Davis has been doing to make changes to the state’s funding formula to provide for a more equitable distribution of funds to all districts.
The other major issue at this time is the school board’s establishment of a task force to review the possibility of consolidating schools and altering attendance zones to save operating costs, and make better use of existing spaces. The task force is composed of one administrator, one SIC member and one at-large community member from each of the five clusters in the schools district; they are supported by three staff members from the central office. The meetings are open to the public and are held at Okatie Elementary School each Wednesday from 3-6 p.m. The group has met twice and the remaining schedule includes July 13, with a scheduled summary to be presented July 19. This date may be moved into early August if the task force requires more time. The Beaufort Cluster is being represented by Mr. Don Gruel, Principal of Mossy Oaks Elementary School, Mrs. Teresa Jepson, a member of the Lady’s Island Elementary SIC and Mr. Herb Gray, of Grayco. Suggestions for the task force’s consideration can be sent to any of these representatives, to District 7 School Board Member, Bill Evans and to the task force’s facilitator, Mr. Terry Bennett, who works out of the district office. Besides recommending possible consolidation of some schools, the group is discussing the need to have clear feeder systems from elementary-to middle-to high school, the consistent alignment of grade configurations within schools and the potential for attendance boundary changes to make better use of existing facilities.
In the academic performance area, this spring we have seen significant growth as measured by MAP testing, a nationally normed assessment used in hundreds of districts across the country. These tests have presented a picture of increased achievement across all grade levels in the elementary and middle schools; the importance here is that in the past, MAP testing has been a very strong indicator of student success on the state mandated tests. At the high school level there is a noted upturn in SAT and ACT results for college readiness and we expect that there be, when reported in July, continued improvement on end of course tests and required proficiency testing administered by the state.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not thank Mr. Martin Wright for his service to our area as Principal of Ladys Island Intermediate and Middle School, this last year. Mr. Wright is moving to Hampton School District, where he will assume a similar role. We wish him well and thank him for his time and caring approach.