Columbia County taxpayers will not see an increase in school taxes this year under a budget that was approved by the school board Tuesday night.
The system's proposed 2003-04 operating budget projects revenue of $115,647,909 and expenditures of $119,660,291, leaving a $4 million deficit that likely will come out of the system's $28 million reserve.
"I think that underscores the need for a healthy reserve. If you don't have it, you would be cutting personnel and programs," Superintendent Tommy Price said.
The budget is based on predictions of a 5-percent increase in the tax digest, though over the past five years it has grown by 6.8 percent on average, Controller Pat Sullivan said. A $3 million deficit had been anticipated last year, but because of to the growth in the digest and conservative budgeting, the school system did not dip into its reserves, she added.
"The next couple of years are not going to be any better and we are going to be asked to do more on the local level," board Chairman Wayne Bridges said.
The millage rate will stay at 17.18 mills. For someone who owns a $100,000 home, excluding homestead exemptions, their school-tax bill would be $687.20.
Added to the budget was a one-time, 1-percent pay increase - $500 for certified employees and $250 for auxiliary employees - for employees with 20 or more years who are at the top of the pay scale and no longer receive annual pay-step increases. There were no other pay raises at the state or local level.
"I wish it had more teacher raises in it," board member Regina Buccafusco said. "It's not been an easy year at all. You wish you could grow and do extra things, but we are lucky to have what we have."
Also at the meeting, the board named Dr. Deborah Williams as assistant superintendent for student learning. She will work under Dr. Lauren Williams in a department that oversees psychological services, special services, technology and the evaluation of principals.
With a career in eduction that spans 22 years, Deborah Williams was most recently school superintendent in South Carolina's Bamberg No. 2 district. Before that, she served eight years as associate school superintendent in McCormick County.
"Your track record is very impressive and we look forward to you being of great value to our system," board member Lee Muns said.
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