Dorchester Dist. 2 presents draft $263M budget to county council

Dorchester County School District 2 will present its preliminary budget Monday before county council, a mandatory step toward finalizing financial plans.
Published: May. 8, 2023 at 3:01 PM EDT|Updated: May. 8, 2023 at 10:01 PM EDT
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SUMMERVILLE, S.C. (WCSC) - Dorchester School District 2 presented its preliminary $263 million budget before County Council, a mandatory step toward finalizing financial plans for the upcoming school year.

The district’s chief financial officer, Tina Meunier, said Monday night the budget is an 11% increase over last year. However, the budget is over two-and-a-half times less than Charleston County School District’s proposed $691 million budget.

“Dorchester County is one of the lowest-funded school districts in the state, yet we have the sixth most students in the state,” Superintendent Dr. Shane Robbins said. “I think we’re very successful in how we try to manage the little budget we have.”

School Board Member Justin Farnsworth said the district is underfunded compared to its neighbors because of a constitutional amendment called Act 388. This amendment mandates school district funding must come from items such as cars and businesses, but not a taxpayer’s primary home.

School districts in Dorchester County must also seek approval from county council to raise taxes over a certain threshold, and they must get approval from the council to finalize their budget.

Dorchester County spokesperson Michelle Mills said they are not expecting any tax increases in the county’s proposed budget for next year.

On the top of the minds of council members were the districts’ plans for safety and security in schools and to handle more growth. District officials estimate there will be over 17,000 new homes coming soon to the area.

“Right now, with what’s going on in the Lowcountry, with the growth in the Lowcountry, whatever the plan is right now, we got to constantly be evolving,” County Council Chair Todd Friddle said, “so this is something we got to work on more continuously. It’s not something we got to talk about once a year.”

Regarding student safety, Robbins said they are working with local law enforcement on potential solutions. As part of this year’s budget, the district plans to expand its K-9 program.

“There may be a little additional expense to have a K-9 school resource officer in place because it takes a special-trained school resource officer to manage that K-9,” Robbins said.

Robbins said the district has also looked at grants where the district would buy its own K-9 SROs, but those are still in early talks.

The district also plans to spend over $15 million to raise their minimum wage for teachers by $2,500, add signing and retention bonuses and a 4% raise for staff.

Another major change deals with the district’s savings for this year. A bill signed by Gov. Henry McMaster earlier this year eliminated a cap on the district’s savings for the future, and the district can now put away more money to pay for unexpected costs.

The district’s new fiscal year begins on July 1.

“You can dig and look for improvements in anything, but I think they did a very good job today, and I really think it’s something that we got to work together on the future on the growth and what we can do together to help manage that,” Friddle said about the budget presentation.