PICKENS COUNTY — The School District of Pickens County board of trustees passed second reading June 8 of the general fund budget for 2015-16 with a few changes from its initial makeup. Third and final reading will be held June 22.
According to information provided by SDPC, an additional $360,000 is projected to be available based upon updated projections from the state for contributed funds to offset the cost of fringe benefits employer contributions.
The additional monies projected to come from the state will be dispersed to five areas.
Project Lead the Way (STEM initiative) will receive $66,000, a 20 percent increase in athletic and band supplements totalling $130,000, $40,000 in increase to the Career and Technology Center’s supply budget, an increased pay scale for school nurses at $50,000, and half of a recommended pay scale increase for bookkeepers and data entry clerks amounting to $74,000.
The projected budget for SDPC for 2015-16 is $108,501,505.
SDPC’s trustees passed the second reading by a 4-1-1 vote. Trustee Philip Bowers voted no while board member Alex Saitta abstained. Saitta said he chose to abstain “until he knows where all of the budget is going to be spent.”
Bowers spoke frankly as to why he cast a no vote on the second reading.
“We have to keep a reserve fund balance of 16 percent and right now that balance is projected to be in the neighborhood of 18 percent and that 2 percent is equal to just over $2 million,” Bowers said. “I am of the opinion we should go ahead and fix all of the step increases in pay and get it done instead of dragging it out over a five-year period. This budget helps us make up two of the pay steps already and we have the opportunity to catch these pay steps up.”
Bowers also pointed out there is a healthy benefit increase as well in the proposed budget.
“There are $1 million in benefits increases, through retirement and covered costs of insurance,” Bowers said. “We’re doing all we can to bring the pay scales in line with where we should be.”
The other members of the board along with district superintendent Dr. Danny Merck are aware of Bowers’ thinking.
“I’ve talked with other members of the board and also with Dr. Merck and they seem to be on board,” Bowers said.
For Bowers, using the extra 2 percent to complete any pay scale step increases goes beyond bringing teacher pay in line with surrounding counties.
“Taking the opportunity to implement a fix on this issue would go a long way to bring healing to the community,” he said. “I love Pickens County and think we should just solve this and move on.”
The third and final reading of SDPC’s budget will be held June 22 and according to a Q&A issued by SDPC, there is a likelihood of changes being made between the second reading and the final version as the state Legislature has not finalized a budget.