Thursday, July 7, 2011

Aiken delegation sends mixed signals to school board

Aiken County residents rejoiced last Wednesday when members of its legislative delegation voted to override Governor Nikki Haley's vetoes of funding for public schools. The county stood to gain $2 million in increased per-pupil expenditures.

But the celebration ended Thursday when the school board received a letter from the delegation.

Then on Thursday, the five Aiken delegation Republican House members - Roland Smith, Tom Young, Bill Taylor, Bill Hixon and Kit Spires - sent a letter to School Board Chair Rosemary English asking the board to set aside the non-reoccurring dollars "for any future funding shortfall."

In the letter to English, the legislators cited the $2 million the Aiken County School District will receive through a late proposal to increase the per-pupil allocations.

"We think by doing this," the letter stated, "this will be the wisest use of these funds, considering the current status of the economy."

Huh? Lawmakers voted to override Haley's veto, so that more funds would flow to school districts to increase their per-pupil expenditures. But the same lawmakers are asking school boards to hoard the additional funds, because next year... what?

"The School Board and the administration will try to be frugal with the funds," Wesby said. "We'll make wise decisions whether to put those funds in reserve to deal with possible shortfalls or try to initiate some programs we feel are instrumental."

It's ironic, [School Board member Richard] Hazen said, that the extra funds allocated by the General Assembly stemmed from an improved economy. That being said, the School Board approved the 2011-12 budget that included new projects but without those funds, he said.

"This left us slightly in the hole without having to do a tax hike," Hazen said. "But we also had 'flex' money that made up that difference. Even if the vetoes had been sustained, we would have been OK."

With the way education funding had been cut in recent years, [member Donna] Wesby said, she was surprised by the overrides by a huge majority of senators and House members.

"I'm not exactly sure about what the catalyst was for the delegation voting the way they did, but I'm certainly glad about it," Wesby said. "We're thankful for the delegation and I'm hopeful that we'll continue on this positive trend."

This is the state of affairs in South Carolina, when local officials are surprised and grateful when state lawmakers do the right thing, then micromanage the local officials' work.

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