Smaller pay raises, less security spending after Columbia schools mend $6.6M budget gap | Education News for Columbia, SC & Richland County | #schoolsaftey

COLUMBIA — Most faculty and staff in the Richland One school district are set to get smaller raises than initially proposed after the 21,850-student district moved to fix the $6.6 million gap in its proposed 2023-24 budget created when the Richland County Council nixed its request to raise property taxes. 

The district’s Board of School Commissioners voted 5-2 to give that budget its final approval June 30, the last day before the district’s 2023-24 fiscal year starts in July. 

To make up for the $6.6 million shortfall, the final $384.6 million spending plan reduced proposed teacher salary increases from 5 percent to 4.5 percent and proposed non-teacher salary increases from 4 percent to 3 percent.

It also cut proposed longevity bonuses for teachers and bus drivers by 50 percent, while adding similar increases to all other staff. 

“What we’re trying to do is make sure everybody gets something versus only a certain group getting something,” Chief Operations Officer Edward Carlon told the board.

The budget cuts will also mean less staffing for planned expansions to the district’s metal detector program, funding 20 new positions instead of the initially proposed 38, as the district looks to add detectors to the entrances of its middle schools. 

The district will have to examine whether that’s enough manpower to properly staff the detectors as they scan students each morning, Superintendent Craig Witherspoon said after the June 30 meeting. 

“We’ll have to see how that works going into the fall, and we’ll do the best we can,” he said. “Safety is still a priority, so we’ll do our best to make it work.” 

Other budget reductions include $1 million less funding to departmental budgets and $300,000 less to travel spending, as well as cuts to leadership programs.

The cuts, combined with a $1.7 million revenue increase from projected investment income and state revenue since the state legislature passed its budget earlier in June, mend the $6.6 million gap, the district said. 

But board members Robert Lominack and Barbara Weston, who cast the two votes against approving the budget, questioned whether the district could have done more to protect staff’s pay. 

“I just think at the end of the day I won’t be able to look at our teachers and staff and say ‘this is the best we can do,'” Lominack said during the meeting, questioning district spending on outside contracts. 

He suggested cutting the board’s budget for travel to conferences, though other members argued that such spending is necessary for training. 

“Those conferences that we attend (are) where where we get our professional development to make sure that we do our job effectively and efficiently,” board chair Cheryl Harris said, adding that the board’s budget is less than 1 percent of the district’s.

$389 million budget would fund metal detector staffing, pay hikes in Richland One

Residents of the downtown Columbia and Lower Richland district won’t have to pay any additional property taxes to fund the district’s operations after the County Council approved a district budget without tax hikes in May, despite the district’s request that it sign off on an increase. 

At the time, council chair Overture Walker explained that decision, which came down to a 7-4 vote, as a way to protect county taxpayers.

The neighboring Richland Two school district, whose board gave its approval to the district’s proposed budget June 27, did not ask the county for a tax increase. 

Reach Ian Grenier at 803-968-1951. Follow him on Twitter @IanGrenier1

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