The Aiken County Schools budget must be finalized by June 25th; in June the school board was still facing a more than two million dollar shortfall. Options for making ends meet ranged from swapping millage rates to cutting back on reading initiatives and freshman academies--measures parents heavily opposed.
"If someone tried to make school funding more complicated, they couldn't," board member Richard Hazen says.
Hazen works with numbers all day as a financial advisor and he still says school board budgets are hard to break down.
In Aiken things have grown increasingly complicated: Since 2008 the legislature has given the school district nine million dollars less, but mandated seven million dollars more in spending.
"There's a 16 million dollar swing of lower income and higher expenses," Hazen says, "and so we've got to cut, cut, cut."
But thankfully unlike other counties in the CSRA they don't yet have to cut where it really counts:
"No teachers will be cut, no programs will be cut," member Tad Barber says.
Instead, the school board found a few ways to make ends meet for now.
The first is a series of millage changes that will affects taxpayers in Aiken County. For homeowners, taxes will actually go down 10 dollars per 100,000 dollars, but taxes will increase on other things, like businesses, cars, and boats.
The board has trimmed a little extra money by delaying buying science kits or expanding freshman academies, and they'll save more than $150,000 by shutting the building down during break.
They say the shortfall is a recurring problem created by the legislature funding only $2,100 per student, instead of the legally mandated $2,700 per student.
"It's the same old story every year," Barber says. "We have to fight the battle with the state and back into what we can do."
And school board members say the only way to win is for people to speak up for their students.
"They need to hear it," Hazen says of legislators' stake in education. "If they hear from people who think roads are more important, or taxes are more important, that's what they're going to do."
Otherwise, the next time budget comes around these backup plans may not be enough.
"The problem is if funding doesn't increase, we're going to start to cut, programs, positions, furloughs," Barber says.
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