Questions surround Charleston Co. schools 2024 budget

The second reading was approved during Wednesday’s meeting with plans for the 2024 budget to go into final approval at the next meeting on July 17.
Published: Jul. 12, 2023 at 10:50 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 13, 2023 at 4:28 AM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The Charleston County School Board hosted a special meeting and public hearing for the 2024 budget on Wednesday evening with some members of the Board of Trustees asking questions.

The second reading was approved during Wednesday’s meeting with plans for the 2024 budget to go into final approval at the next meeting on July 17.

The full budget, including the General Operating Fund, Capital Projects, and 5 other funds, is nearly $1.4 billion.  It was delayed back in June after trustees delayed the initial first reading weeks prior and sent it back to the audit and finance committee.

Wednesday’s meeting included a public hearing for citizens to express their concerns or comments about the budget without the regular constraints of the public comment section.

No members of the public spoke during the hearing.

Some of the members of the Charleston County School Board of Trustees, Keith Grybowski, Carol Tempel and Daron Lee Calhoun II, asked questions surrounding the 150-page budget, with questions directed towards Jacquelyn Carlen, Charleston County School District Interim Chief Financial Officer.

“It’s really hard looking at this budget without doing a deep dive into each department to figure out exactly what we’re doing,” Grybowski says.

The budget includes major raises for the teachers. District staff recommended teacher pay be boosted across the board by $5,000, increasing the starting salary for a new teacher to $48,146 a year. In addition, teacher steps were increased to 40 steps, extending the number of years veteran teachers will continue to receive annual pay raises.

Raising the teacher’s salary increases the budget by almost $20 million compared to 2023.

“Just as our teachers have brought to us the attention that the increase in salaries are needed for them, though seeing the problems our non-classified employees are facing in their own situations, I think we need to be sensitive to that,” Tempel says.

One of the budget categories, purchased services, which includes property services, outsourced substitutes and janitorial staff, would be almost $9 million more in the 2024 budget compared to 2023.

“We’ve just increased the amount of purchase services astronomically, and until we get an opportunity to take this budget apart, department by department, I see the potential for serious problems,” Grybowski says.

To cover the difference and to balance local priorities, board members voted to increase the district’s millage rate, effectively increasing property taxes on businesses, cars and non-owner-occupied homes.

The board intends to increase the millage rate by 8.3 mills.

“If everything keeps going up, we are going to be right at that line,” Calhoun says. “If something hits our sets our budget, like another lawsuit or anything, we’re going to be under. I am really thinking about that use of fund balance right now.”

“To see this [millage rate] is going to change, it may seem like a small amount, but it’s affecting every citizen in this town,” Grybowski says.

In response to Grybowski’s concerns surrounding the budget, Carlen says other large school districts in the area budget the same way Charleston County School District does.

“They budget the same way that we do; they budget by fund, by function and by object,” she says. “The reason we do that is because that’s what our audit looks like, and that was a requirement by the Department of Education.”

To access Charleston County School District’s entire 2024 budget, click here.

The budget is expected to be finalized on July 17 at the next board meeting.

Charleston County School District’s Audit and Finance Committee is also hosting a special meeting on Zoom on Thursday to address additional questions.