Charleston Co. School District proposes tax increase to boost teacher pay

The Charleston County School District is hoping to boost teacher pay more than 10 percent in...
The Charleston County School District is hoping to boost teacher pay more than 10 percent in order to attract more teachers but it’ll cost the district more than $30 million next year.(Live 5/File)
Published: May. 2, 2023 at 5:26 PM EDT|Updated: May. 2, 2023 at 9:37 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Charleston County School District staff is once again looking to increase taxes and dip into savings to fund significant teacher raises and balance its budget for next year.

At the audit and finance committee meeting on Tuesday, district staff presented a budget that includes a 7.1 millage increase to property tax to balance its $691 million budget. It’s the largest increase since 2017 and the second largest in more than 12 years.

This comes after a 6.3 millage increase last year.

Millage refers to how much tax a person pays on property like homes, cars and commercial properties. For perspective, the 7.1 millage increase would result in a $185.31 increase a year on non-owner-occupied homes valued at $435,000. A single millage increase is worth about $3 million in revenue. In all, the increase in taxes would bring in an additional $23.1 million.

The increased revenue would allow the district to raise teacher starting salaries to $50,928, an average increase of more than 10.5%. Currently, first-year teachers make $43,146 on average. Teachers at every level would see some kind of boost to their annual salaries somewhere between 4% and 18%.

Teacher salary increases alone make up nearly $31 million in new expenses for the district. Other additional expenses include increases in retirement benefits, higher salaries for data clerks to reflect new responsibilities, paid parental leave and funding for charter schools.

The district is also expanding learning services, hiring more employees to reflect enrollment changes and looking to get vice principals in every school that doesn’t currently have one. It is also projecting a $600,000 increase in outsourced legal fees.

In all, new expenditures total about $73 million.

Increased revenues, with the millage increase, come in at about $33 million.

To make up for the difference, the district is getting rid of $8 million in “departmental positions”, many of which Superintendent Don Kennedy says have been vacant for “a period of time”. Kennedy also implemented a hiring freeze in April that will save the district about $2.7 million and is requiring departmental budget cuts worth about $7.5 million. The rest is being made up through a combination of drawing from the district fund balance from last year and this year for about $11 million and a projected increase in local revenue of about $3.5 million.

The fund balance is effectively the district’s emergency account.

Last year, the district budgeted $18 million from the fund balance to be used to balance the budget. According to district staff, they didn’t use any of it. That’s why Kennedy is unconcerned about using some of that money to help balance this year’s budget.

The fund balance is required to not dip below $144.3 million. Under this proposed budget, the fund balance is expected to stay at about $145 million.

The district listed a number of proposals in this first budget presentation. You can see them here.

The budget will be heard again on May 8.