Sentinel Progress

SDPC budget passes with no tax increase

PICKENS COUNTY — On Monday’s meeting, the Pickens County School District Board of Trustees passed the 2018-2019 general fund budget.

“The 2018-2019 General Fund Budget is distinguished by its commitment to three priorities: safety, people, and opportunities.,” said SDPC Superintendent Dr. Danny Merck. “In 2017-2018, the school board took steps to ensure full-time law enforcement coverage at some of our most remote elementary schools, and part-time coverage at all others. Our middle and high schools have enjoyed full-time School Resource Officers for many years. The 2018-2019 budget includes new funding for full-time School Resource Officers at every school.”

In total, the SDPC will spend $1.3 million for resource officers in Pickens County schools in the coming year.

“Our commitment to safety will also extend beyond resource officers,” said Merck. “The budget provides for a new Security Monitor position, which will continuously monitor our schools’ security cameras and online activity to identify threats to school security before they result in tragedy.”

Additionally, the budget provides additional funds for increased mental health services for students, in partnership with Anderson-Oconee-Pickens Mental Health Center, SDPC officials said.

The second priority on the budget was people, Merck said announcing “a commitment to hiring first, hiring the best, and paying competitively.”

The commitment begins with teachers, who—in addition to receiving their step increase for years of service—will receive a raise based on 1 percent of the state minimum salary schedule. Also, teachers in their first three years of service will receive a higher level of base pay, he said.

The step and the 1 percent increase were mandated and funded by the SC General assembly; the new pay rate for new teachers was also part of a state mandate for higher starting pay.

The budget also addresses the need to recruit, retain, and reward support employees by introducing a new Classified Pay Scale.

“The scale makes it more financially feasible for the district to give regular raises to support employees, and it shortens the wait for employees to be rewarded for their commitment to the district,” said Merck. “The budget also includes a Competitive Pay Initiative to ensure that the district can retain quality employees in support roles and leadership that are neither on the Classified Pay Scale nor the Teacher Pay Scale.

“This includes a year of service step for bus drivers and nurses,” he said. “I’m also very proud of how opportunities for student engagement will expand for students under the new budget. The district’s two theme-based magnet schools, McKissick Academy of Science & Technology and Central Academy of the Arts, will receive $213,490 and $201,610 respectively, to fund positions and supplies needed to make their transformations successful.”

Also, $55,000 is allocated for the Lakes & Mountains Summer Program, a program scheduled for the summer of 2019 that will offer qualifying students opportunities to grow artistically, officials said.

The budget also includes $175,000 for Student Work Studies, which will allow high school students to begin gaining work experience through support roles at the school and district level. In addition to these new initiatives, the budget continues our financial commitment to excellence at the Pickens County Career & Technology Center, and to extracurricular and co-curricular programs across the district.

According to the budget, taxes for residents will not be raised.

“I’m proud to say that we were able to fund all of our new initiatives, cover continually rising costs of healthcare and retirement, and balance the budget without raising taxes,” Merck said. “Three things have allowed this accomplishment: an increase in local revenues thanks to new investment and increasing property values in Pickens County, a forecast increase in state revenue, and a return to normal retirement costs following last year’s bubble due to the departure of TERI employees.

“I believe the school board’s vision has combined with favorable economic conditions to allow us to present one of the best budgets our district has seen in many years. Our students will reap the benefits as we help them build success beyond the classroom!”

By Kasie Strickland

Reach Kasie Strickland at 864-855-0355.