PICKENS COUNTY — The School District of Pickens County board of trustees passed final reading June 22 of the general fund budget for 2015-16 by a vote of 5-1, funding the district at a total of $109,767,324.
“This budget reflects an organizational philosophy of hiring first and hiring the best,” SDPC Superintendent Dr. Danny Merck stated. “Great schools rely on having great people, and this budget will help us to retain the excellent employees we have and to recruit talented people going forward.”
In all, three steps in teacher pay raises were implemented within the budget — two missed steps following the recession beginning in 2008 and one mandated by the state for 2015-16.
“For several years, surrounding districts were thanking us for being a training ground for teachers because we couldn’t compete with salaries. That time has ended,” said Dr. Brian Swords, chairman of the board. “Our teacher salaries are on par with any district in the region, and when you consider the culture we have in place in our schools, I don’t think a teacher could find a better place to work in South Carolina.”
In all some $2,451,059 was included to meet the teacher pay raises.
Trustee Alex Saitta was the lone no vote for the budget.
“This budget gives teachers their regular pay raise plus two extra pay raises. While giving teachers 3 annual pay raises next year is admirable, this is not the way I would do it,” Saitta said. “That third pay raise costs $1 million more a year, and is funded with savings. That is, this budget funds a recurring expense of $1.0 million with one-time money. That’s a financial no-no. The administration said it will cut another 12 to 18 classroom teachers to plug that long-term deficit after that.”
Saitta also went on to say there would be a continuation of teacher position eliminations moving forward which would harm classroom instruction.
Trustee Philip Bowers said he believes the budget will go beyond bringing teacher pay in line and will go a long way in bringing healing to a rift in the community.
“This budget is a win for everyone: students, teachers, business and industry, and taxpayers. It gives our teachers three pay raises, bringing pay in line with surrounding counties,” Bowers said. “Coach, band and ROTC leader supplements increased dramatically as well, and every other employee received a raise. Many other lingering issues will be addressed with this budget while also maintaining a healthy reserve fund — all without raising taxes. Far too much time and energy has been spent on negatives the last few years. I look forward to a year of highlighting the positives in Pickens County.”
Two other areas receiving important funding within the budget were STEM education and the Project Lead the Way Program with another $40,000 allotted for supplies and equipment at the Pickens County Career and Technology Center.
There will be 16 fewer teaching positions and 10 fewer custodial positions in the upcoming year but student to teacher ratios in the classroom will remain at 21.5 to 1.
“Our goal was to get people right, and our student-to-teacher ratio remains very low,” Merck said. “At the beginning of the year, the board and I met with staff and community stakeholders to establish our philosophy of how to make Pickens County a top five school district in South Carolina over the next five years.
“This year’s budget not only adheres to the philosophy of hiring the best, but it also puts us two years ahead of schedule on our five-year plan for the general fund,” he said. “I’m excited about where our district is headed and I think our students from the financial priorities we’ve set.”