By Chris Gregory, Managing Editor

The Hartsville/Trousdale County School Board passed last Wednesday night a preliminary budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year that would require significant assistance from county government to balance.

The school system is anticipating a loss of $429,198 in state funding via the Basic Education Program (BEP) because of increased fiscal capacity (ability to pay) on the part of the county. The addition of CoreCivic’s Hartsville prison has added over $1.5 million annually to the property tax rolls since the facility opened in 2016, which increased the county’s fiscal capacity.

An additional loss of BEP funds is expected for the 2020-21 budget, but estimates on that will not be available until next year.

While acknowledging the BEP loss was less than original projections of over $600,000, Director of Schools Clint Satterfield said the loss still left a big hole in the schools’ budget.

Director of Schools Clint Satterfield

“The county has always provided more than the minimum,” Satterfield said. “What has happened over time is the local required match has increased as the BEP has increased.”

The proposed budget has no new positions or programs, includes $462,890 in capital outlays and estimates a 3 percent state raise for teachers. The actual state raise has not been determined yet.

The capital outlay projects include recoating and recertifying the roof on the elementary school, replacing classroom doors at the middle and replacing the sidewalk at the elementary school.

The budget calls for the school system to dip into its fund balance for $477,890 to even out but also anticipates an increase in county funding of just over $900,000 – or 46.5 cents on the property tax.

The schools’ current budget estimates a total fund balance of just under $2.8 million as of June 30. However as of March 31, roughly $1.76 million of that is restricted to certain uses.

If no additional county funds are provided, Satterfield estimated the schools’ fund balance would dip to roughly $1.4 million by the end of June 2020.

“We didn’t have to raise taxes last year because we were able to go into our fund balance. But we can’t continue to do that,” Satterfield said. “You can only kick that can so far down the road before the can wears out.”

The school system also has an estimated $341,150 in debt payments annually, plus $75,000 for school resource officers. The cost of SROs is split 50/50 with the county under a deal worked out in last year’s budget negotiations.

Satterfield has already met with County Mayor Stephen Chambers and County Commission chairman Jerry Ford to discuss the budget. Satterfield said discussions would continue leading up to the budget process. County budget hearings typically take place in late May or early June.

“We are submitting a status quo budget,” added School Board member Johnny Kerr. “It’s based on the assumption that the county court is going to help us with our deficit issues, which we’ve tried to be very transparent (about)… They’ve been great to work with.”

The School Board also approved May 3 as Teacher Appreciation Day and set May 16 as the day for the Employee Appreciation Breakfast.

Satterfield also told board members that the ‘Read to be Ready’ summer program would run from June 3-28 and is expected to serve anywhere from 40 to 45 children. ‘Read to be Ready’ is a state-funded initiative to improve literacy in students entering grades 1-3.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com.