Courier Letters to the Editor

Clearly a government breakdown

Dear Editor,

The school district building program had three financial requirements:

First, finance the $387 million program. That was done by passing the Greenville Plan in 2006 and approving a 39-mill property tax increase. Today, the annual bond payment is $24.5 million.

Second, the district had to cover the increased costs to operate the extra space and acreage. Those rising operational costs were covered with natural revenue growth from 2010 to 2014. When you look at the cost of operations, utilities, insurance and day-to-day repairs, it’s $12.8 million a year.

Finally, we have to cover capital maintenance items like replacing roofs, HVACs, repaving parking lots and computer refreshes. This year $4.6 million was spent on capital maintenance.

In sum, the district is spending $42 million on buildings this year.

Let’s focus on the capital maintenance budget for next year, which is the bone of contention. Refinancing the district’s construction loan is generating a stream of savings used to help fund that budget. This year that was $3.25 million. That figure is rising by $250,000 a year, so it will be $3.5 million in 2016-17.

As mentioned, $4.6 million is being spent on capital maintenance. A 10 percent increase would be $5 million.

For 2016-17, $5 million minus $3.5 million yields a $1.5 million deficit. This is manageable if the board takes the following steps.

I was the central figure in discovering Clemson was violating the TIF law and brought the case to our attorney and district administration. I hoped the money would go toward something that would make a notable difference. The annual in-flow of TIF money is $600,000. It should be earmarked for building maintenance. That gets us to $4.1 million revenue, so the capital budget would be $900,000 short.

Instead of having meetings to close schools or discuss another tax increase — both the public opposes, the board should:

1) Examine its $193 million in annual spending, rank expenses from necessary or most important to least important and reallocate let’s say $600,000 from the bottom to building maintenance. The last time the board combed through the budget like that was five years ago.

2) Allocate a couple hundred thousand of new revenue to building maintenance — revenue is likely to grow more than $4 million next year.

3) Sell surplus properties, and there are five or six. When one is sold, it can be used to help plug a small hole in the maintenance budget.

4) Consider spending some savings; the savings account has about $3 million.

That would balance the 2016-17 budget. In 2017-18 the refinancing savings should grow another $250,000. Ditto in 2018-19, and then the TIF revenue doubles to $1.3 million.

There isn’t a lack of money or inability to manage this — revenue growth is the highest in 10 years, and $1.5 million could be reallocated to building maintenance. Rather, the issue is the board and administration would rather spend the money on something else besides keeping those small schools open. Be it a $20,000 LED sign at the district office, extra pay raises, airplane tickets to some education conference or building another administration building.

With the opposition to closing schools so loud and unanimous, clearly there is a government breakdown here, between the will of the people and the actions of its elected body.

Alex Saitta

School board trustee


Keep the schools open

Dear Editor,

One of the primary ways the state funds local school districts is through the Education Funding Act, which is supposed to follow a funding formula. When this act was passed in 1977, its base student cost (BSC) was set at $1,000 per weighted pupil unit. This BSC is to increase each year with inflation to help districts keep their programs current as prices and salaries increase.

According to the law, the BSC should be about $2,800. The state only funded it at $2,200 this year.

The House Ways and Means Committee announced it is giving public K-12 education an extra $375 million next year. One of the reasons is a generous boost in the BSC. Overall state revenue to school districts is rising at its highest rate since before the recession.

In Pickens County, the sum of the county government and county school taxes is 234.7 mills. Ten years ago it was 201.4. The increase is totally attributed to the school district. There has been a significant growth in the number of properties, and the tax rate has been raised, too.

Given all this, why doesn’t the school board of Pickens County have enough funding to keep all its renovated schools open? Some are saying the district is in a financial crisis. If there is a crisis, there shouldn’t be. There is enough funding. The school district must better manage their revenue coming in, and instead of 10 No. 1 priorities, there should be one. Keep the schools open.

Weldon Clark