Letter To Legislative Delegation About State Budget

Dear Legislative Delegation Members:

I wanted to express my disappointment about the budget proposal by the Ways and Means Committee to fund no increase in Base Student Cost.

Because of the General Assembly’s failure to fund the legal requirement for Base Student Cost over the past ten years, our District has lost approximately $80 million in funding. Because of this, we have not yet restored all of the programs and services eliminated during the economic downturn. Our programs in the arts, gifted education, and Pre-K have been particularly impacted. (It’s especially unfortunate that we cannot afford the local costs necessary to take advantage of the state CDEP preschool funding.) Class size also continues to be a significant concern. I am further concerned that we are lagging behind on course offerings to support the “trained and ready workforce” needed to stimulate economic growth in our county.

While it is very positive that the Ways and Means budget funds a 2% increase for teachers, not funding some kind of meaningful increase in Base Student Cost will make it very difficult for us to maintain competitive salaries for other positions, particularly for bus drivers and assistants. As I explained to County Council a couple of weeks ago, our District must be able to hire people that we can trust to drive an often very old school bus on a one-lane dirt road in the dark on a rainy day and assistants that we can trust to handle the personal care and other needs of Special Education students whose services are subject to federal law. Our current salary scale does not lend itself to consistently attracting such people. It’s just that simple.

Seeking additional millage through County Council will be at best a difficult sell given that our Council has already approved local tax increases to address its own challenges. Beyond these increases, about $600,000 per year in FILOT agreement funds from Kershaw Health that would have normally gone to the District was used instead to fund EMS services. (While I understand the logic behind this, these funds could have been used for teachers and course offerings and other services that we are sorely lacking.) The fact that local governing bodies are no longer required by the state to fund Maintenance of Effort exacerbates this situation.

I would add that in light of the recent school shooting tragedy in Florida, parents are demanding additional safety measures that will require funding at a time when County Council would like the District to take on more of the cost of existing School Resource Officers.

I would respectfully ask that as your bodies deliberate the budget, consideration be given to funding a meaningful increase in Base Student Cost.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions. Thank you for your service to our state and our community.

 

Dr. Frank E. Morgan