The Orangeburg County School Board has approved a $134.2 million operating budget for the consolidated school district.
Orangeburg County Administrator Harold Young said it’s still unclear if taxpayers will see an overall increase in school taxes.
That’s because the district has not yet provided the county with information about its debt millage.
“I’m praying, like you as the taxpayer, if they do the right thing, that should go down and the net effect would be a lowering of the taxes,” Young said.
“We don’t have all the information yet,” he said.
School trustees voted 6-3 last week to give final approval to the $134.2 million budget for the school district. Voting against the budget were trustees Vernell Goodwin, Betty Pelzer and Ruby Edwards.
The district took over the operations of Orangeburg school districts 3, 4 and 5 on Monday. The combined budgets of the three former districts was $129.5 million.
Although tax rates aren’t officially known until October, the district is estimating it will cost 220 mills to pay for its operations. That’s more than the 218 originally considered.
District Chief of Finance Michael Thom Jr. told trustees last week he was not prepared to say how taxpayers will be affected because the three districts had different tax rates.
"Each one of the districts had a different millage rate before,” trustee Dr. William O'Quinn said. "What will the total millage be as compared to what they are paying now?”
He said, "There really won't be that much of an impact to the taxes because of the different debt millage and the general operations.”
Edwards said she was seriously disappointed about any possible tax increase since consolidation was promoted as a cost saver.
She asked if the district, “can find money without raising taxes for our citizens and in no way affect our students and our teachers.
“How can we do that without raising the millage?"
O'Quinn said he remembers years in Orangeburg Consolidated School District 4 when taxes weren’t increased.
"We got caught in a bind," he said. "We did not have enough money to function."
"Two mills a year is really not that much," he said. "None of us like paying more taxes, but it is really not that much."
Thom also said the school districts’ fund balances will not be known until audits are finalized later this year.
State law requires a school district’s fund balance to be 8.3 percent of the year’s operating costs or one month of operations.
He said through the June 30, 2018 audit, the three county school districts had a combined $23 million fund balance, or 18 percent.
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"We will not know final numbers ... until they do the audit," he said. "I am not sure where we are going to end up at the 18 percent. My guess is we might be 10 or we might be 13."
"My goal is going to be shooting for at least 16 percent for the district," he continued. "My goal is always to keep us at that two-month reserve."
In other matters, Vance resident Judy Wright said she’s concerned about the board's lack of transparency and openness about the new district hires.
"The students, parents, faculty and staff of Orangeburg County knows no more than they knew a few months ago and that should not be the case," Wright said. "The constituents of Orangeburg County are still in the dark to what is to come. It is not that questions have not been asked, but we have gotten little to no answers."
"You all are the ones who have been in all the closed-door meetings," she said.
"Madam chair and board members, we will be supporting you as long as everything is right," she continued. "Remember united we stand, divided we fall."
Goodwin said the board should have a meeting with people who are concerned. The comment received some applause from those in attendance.
Board Chair Peggy James-Tyler said new interim Superintendent Dr. Darrell Johnson has expressed a desire to meet with all retired people from the district to discuss their concerns.
"We have your back," James-Tyler told those gathered.
In other business:
• Trustees approved three hires in administration: Coordinator of Safety and Security Systems Mike Taylor, Coordinator of Athletics Charles Gregory and Coordinator of Nursing Services Patty Padgett.
• Trustees approved the hire of certified teacher staff and classified staff. A vote to hire certain certified employees as recommended by interim superintendent Dr. Zona Jefferson failed to pass. No public discussion was held on any of the specific employees or positions.
• Trustees approved Lexington-based Splash Omnimedia to serve as the district's branding company.
• Trustees unanimously approved trips for the Lake Marion Career and Technology Education program Family, Career and Community Leaders of America students to go to Anaheim, California and Lake Marion Center Career and Technology Education program for Future Business Leaders to go to San Antonio, Texas for educational and leadership conferences.
Goodwin, who supported the trips, said in the future the board needs to make sure students who qualify for trips are able to go.
She mentioned a recent case where Orangeburg Consolidated School District 3 Junior Beta Club students were unable to attend a convention in Oklahoma due to the district's not funding the trip.
• Local Director of Child Evangelism and Fellowship Helen Hucks requested the board allow the group's after-school club for elementary school students called the “Good News Club” to continue to meet in the new school district.
The Good News Club has been in county schools for over ten years, Hucks said.
The comments were received as information.
• Trustees thanked Jefferson for her service to the county school system for the past six months. The board meeting was Jefferson's last.
As a parting gift, Jefferson received a bouquet of roses.
* This story has been changed from its original version