Revenue to the School District of Pickens County is growing at the highest rate in 10 years. But for some reason the district cannot balance its books.
Revenue is growing like this. However, spending is not growing at the same rate like this, but way up here like that. The past 18 months there has been an acceleration in spending, that even the growth in new revenue isn’t keeping pace with. The solution by some is to close some schools to pay for it all. Instead we need to restore some basic operating principles the board had previously followed.
One, the district does not have to cut their budget like it did in 2010 or 2011. Nor am I suggesting the district not grow its budget. However, it must slow the growth of its spending, so it comes back in line with rising revenue. For instance, revenue in its general fund account is growing an impressive $4.6 million. Yet spending is growing by $5.1 million. Stop the overspending. Live within the growing revenue stream; not beyond it.
Two, refocus spending on things that impact direct student instruction. Smaller schools and class sizes do that. Did the district administration NEED to tear out all the landscaping at the district office, cut down the trees, put in new landscaping, plant trees, plus buy a $20,000 LED sign that flashes “Welcome to the SDPC”? No.
Three, the district spent $375 million on 7 new schools and renovating 20 others – a generation worth of construction. Rightfully so, the focus then shifted to maintaining those buildings.
This year, the board and administration got the bug to start building again, and just spent $50,000 in architectural fees for the Hagood renovation plan. The administration must resist its urge to do more construction (e.g., the district doesn’t NEED to construct a $1.2 teacher training center when one of the new high school cafeterias or auditorium would do). Instead we should stay focused on maintaining our existing facilities.
Four, any windfall in revenue should be devoted to maintaining buildings. For instance, working with the county treasurer and auditor we discovered in late 2011 the city of Clemson was overcollecting on the TIF to the tune of $10 million. Starting on a path from the county government, to State Senate legal counsel to the city of Clemson and then with all that evidence in hand, finally to Superintendent Hunt and the district’s attorney, and we uncovered the city was not following the TIF law.
The board and county council then partnered to sue the Clemson City Council. We won the case. Easley and the Liberty city councils were over-collecting too and both were settled. The settlement was: the district received back payments of $1.8 million. And in 2015, 2016 and 2017 the district collects $550,000 a year. In 2018 the TIF payment jumps to about $1.1 million a year.
That was an unexpected financial windfall, and guided by that last principle it should be devoted to building maintenance.
School Board Trustee