School district consolidation is happening in Orangeburg County. Thanks to the transition committee appointed by lawmakers, the newly elected countywide school board is getting some sound advice on spending.
This past week, the Orangeburg County Consolidation Transition Committee's finance subcommittee, headed by Orangeburg County Administrator Harold Young, recommended the new district spend at 2017 levels in 2019 -- not at the 2018 amounts for the three present districts combined.
The recommendation comes because the present districts in 2018 went about spending "their" money ahead of the consolidation.
According to Young, the districts increased budgets a total of $9 million to $10 million this past fiscal year. Only Consolidated District 4 added a tax increase to cover the cost. The other districts used reserves to deal with the budget increase.
The budget additions, in other words, are non-recurring funds -- unless a significant countywide tax increase is put in place to fund a combined budget at the levels of the present three.
"You can't raise the budget by $10 million and use reserves at a $10 million clip and still pay at that millage. Because you did not increase the mills, any deficit comes from the fund balance,” Young said.
Repeating his subcommittee's recommendation: Orangeburg County’s new school district needs to spend at 2017 levels, not current levels, to prevent a significant tax increase for county taxpayers.
As to the tax increase that would be needed, Young said, "I would not even want to think about that. We are trying to hold the line."
And hold the line is exactly what the new countywide board should do. Many are experienced current or former educators with a lot of knowledge of education, education administration and teaching. Each has ideas about what is needed to improve the educational system in the county. Now it is up to each to govern, and that means balancing the needs of the schools with taxation.
As much as better education is a stated objective in a developing county such as Orangeburg, attracting development that can go a long way toward funding better education is dependent upon taxation that keeps the county competitive. High taxes are a sure way to push prospective business and industry into other counties and states.
A key goal of consolidation is streamlining administration and services, saving money in the process. The newly elected board should take seriously that mission.