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Orangeburg County School District plans employee raises; $137.8M school budget advances with tax increase

Orangeburg County School District plans employee raises; $137.8M school budget advances with tax increase

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Orangeburg County School District teachers and eligible employees will receive pay increases under the $137.8 million general fund budget that’s being considered by district trustees.

The OCSD trustees unanimously approved the increases last week when they gave first reading to the district's 2021-2022 budget. The increases apply to the current school year and the next one.

Teachers, who normally receive a salary increase annually, did not receive the roughly 2% increase this year due to statewide salary freezes caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

State lawmakers unanimously passed the retroactive annual salary increases for teachers in March of this year.

The Orangeburg County School District has been operating on a continuing resolution with frozen salaries due to the pandemic, according to Assistant Superintendent for Communications and Community Partnerships Merry Glenne Piccolino.

“In essence, the legislature unfroze the teacher step for the 2020-2021 school year,” Piccolino said.

The OCSD board also approved a pay raise for the current school year for all employees who worked in the district during the 2019-2020 school year. All school employees will also receive an increase for the 2021-2022 school year.

The first step salary increase will occur on or before June 15 of this year, Piccolino said.

"Our administration and school board recognize that all employees contribute to the success of our system, schools and community," she said. "We are working through the logistics of this payout and will share with employees, once determined."

Piccolino said the district's finance department is also preparing its budget in anticipation of the legislature providing a salary increase for teachers for the 2021-2022 school year.

“The state has not shared yet what their portion of the teacher step increase will be,” Piccolino said. “The district will use local funds to compensate teachers for the difference in what the state appropriates individual districts and what the step equates to on our scale.”

“OCSD will be fully responsible for the step increase for non-teachers,” she said.

The salaries will be increased based on a step method. A step increase means an increase from one pay rate to the next higher rate within the established salary range for the class or position.

“Teachers and other staff are paid on salary scales specific to their role,” Piccolino said. “The salary scales are publicly available on our website under Human Resources.”

The 2021-2022 general fund budget also includes a 1% increase for retirement contributions.

“There is no increase in the employee portion,” Piccolino said.

The budget also calls for an estimated 6.73% increase in employer health costs.

About $3.3 million will be allocated to the High School for Health Professions, the district's charter school, Assistant Superintendent for Finance Brandi Gist said.

Gist said the 2021-2022 fiscal year budget leaves ten positions vacant and creates 12 new positions.

The new positions would allow each middle and high school to have at least one foreign language teacher and all elementary schools to have an offering in music and art.

“We reviewed staffing levels,” Gist said.

The budget calls for a net increase of eight employees due to enrollment and student/teacher ratios, Gist said.

The general operations budget calls for taxes of 219 mills. That includes a 28-mill increase in operational millage from the current school year. The tax increase will not apply to primary residences.

It will apply to second homes or rental property, which will see taxes increase by about $168 on a $100,000 home.

The increase will also apply to vehicles. Taxes on a vehicle valued at $25,000 will increase by about $42.

The district had to receive special permission from lawmakers to increase taxes above the state cap. The increase adjusts for a miscalculation made when the county’s three school districts were combined into one.

The budget calls for the district to spend $137.8 million, with $72 million for instruction, $63 million for support and $3.3 million in transfer costs.

Gist said the district is looking at ways to cut costs in the budget by conducting a districtwide salary study; contracting out its substitute services with a goal of saving in administrative costs and using COVID federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds to help with maintenance expenses.

Gist said there are still some unknowns in the budget, including the cost for the substitute teachers, local revenue volatility due to the COVID pandemic, falling enrollment numbers and reductions in state or federal funding.

Gist said the district receives state funding based on its base student cost and enrollment.

She said the district's fully funded base student cost for the coming school year is $3,140.

Gist said the S.C. House Ways and Means Committee version of the budget has committed to funding about $2,500 per student.

“For the past several years, that base student cost hasn't been fully funded, which affects funding for all districts across the state,” Gist said.

The Senate version of the budget increased the base student cost to $2,516.

The district has seen its enrollment decline over the past few years.

Since the 2017-2018 school year, the district has lost about 915 students.

Gist said the district has lost about $2.3 million in state funding due the decline in enrolment since the 2018-2019 school year. This loss is based on a fully funded base student cost.

The budget will be tweaked prior to second reading, which will occur May 25.

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