By Betsy Finklea
The Dillon County Board of Education voted 5-3 on Tuesday morning to follow a recommendation from the Dillon County legislative delegation asking the board to change the local school funding formula basing it on assessed valuation and not a per pupil basis as has been previously done.
This will be a decrease of about $300,000 in funding for the Latta District and a decrease of $100,000 in funding for the Lake View District, according to the Dillon County Board of Education. It will be an approximately $400,000 increase in funding for Dillon District Two.
The issue was on the board agenda for the July meeting. The board room was packed with citizens, which overflowed into the hall. The board voted to put the issue on the table for discussion.
County School Board Chairman Richard Schafer said this is an issue that has been discussed for years and there had been enough media attention and local involvement that everyone knows what the issues are. He asked if anyone had any questions.
Trustee Nancy G. Finklea of Latta said that she had some comments to make. She said when the meeting was held with members of the delegation in Latta last Tuesday night, the people in attendance were left with the idea that this was not going to be voted on at Tuesday’s county board meeting. Finklea said she did not like the wording of the directive. She said it says that all districts follow a local funding formula based on assessed valuation, but that some districts do not follow this. Schafer said he believed that there were two other districts who did not follow this method which resulted in some negative shaking heads in the room.
Finklea said some people can’t help where they live, therefore, a child cannot control where they attend school. She said while she appreciates the monetary issue for the Dillon District, she did “not think as a county board that we should discriminate against any child,” and therefore, believes that the county board should distribute local funding on a per pupil basis. “I don’t think we can tell a child who lives in Latta or a child who lives in Lake View that they are not worth as much as a child who lives in Dillon,” Finklea said.
Finklea also asked how the amount of local money will follow the children from one district who attend school in another district, for example, someone from Dillon who goes to Latta, someone from Latta who goes to Lake View, someone from Lake View who goes to Dillon, etc. “I feel like each child in this county should have an equal amount of local money set aside for their education,” said Finklea.
Trustee Antonia Graves said she would like to know how many counties do not follow this method. She said she would like additional time to look further into the issue and make an informed decision. She said if this was supposed to have been done years ago and was not in place, she would like to know when it was supposed to done and why it was not done.
Graves said she believed in equal opportunity for a quality education, and she believed that the children in Dillon District Two deserve the same quality education as children in Latta or across the state. She said if the funds belong to Dillon District Two then perhaps they could use those funds to help raise the bar as far as education goes. She said all things need to be taken into consideration. She said they represent the children, and they need to do what is right. She said she would like to have more information, but was prepared to make a decision today if necessary.
Trustee Carl Altman said he agreed with Graves that this was happening “real fast,” and it would suit him not to vote today and look into the matter further.
Schafer said that they were voting on the matter now and that a decision was going to be made today one way or the other. He said that he thought the ruling was a directive from the legislative delegation. Schafer told Altman that the delegation controls the taxes “not you” (referring to the board).
Board Attorney Bruce Davis explained how state money follows a student from district to district. He also said that state law requires a local minimum effort, and the law intends that the source to maintain this local minimum effort be local funds.
Dr. John Kirby, superintendent of the Latta School District, asked if he could make a correction to an earlier statement. He said there were more districts than two that used formulas or other methods to distribute the local money.
Schafer then called for the question. He said a “yes” vote was in favor of the delegation’s recommendation and a “no” vote was to vote against the delegation’s recommendation.
Five board members voted in favor of the recommendation —Sylvia Griffin, John Best, Jimmy Sweat, Antonia Graves, and Tim Faulk. Three board members voted against the recommendation—Nancy G. Finklea, Carl Altman, and James Calvin McRae. Schafer does not have to vote unless there is a tie because he is the board chairman. Board member Varion Mason was absent from the meeting and therefore, did not vote.
Schafer said the decision had been made to adopt the request. He said his previous request last month to the business manager that this begin immediately will remain in tact.
The board was supposed to hear budgets after an executive session. Due to the change in the allocation of the local funds, the reading of the budgets was delayed so that districts could make changes. Superintendent Kirby told the board that the new method of distributing funds would also affect how the expenses were distributed and that Latta and Lake View’s expenses would likely be reduced. Kirby said he felt that a decision should be made on the expenses before they reworked their budgets because this would have an impact on the budgets. Schafer agreed and said he would appoint a committee to work with the superintendents and the ATEC director on this matter.
The next regularly scheduled meeting of the Dillon County Board of Education will be Tuesday, August 17th at 9:30 a.m. in room 305 on the third floor of the Dillon City-County Complex. The Latta School Board meets on Tuesday, August 10th at 6:30 p.m. at the district board room on King Street in Latta. The Dillon District Two School Board meets on Monday, August 16th at 6:30 p.m. at the district office at the back of J.V. Martin Jr. High School. The Lake View School Board meets on Monday, August 16th at 7:30 p.m. at the Lake View District Office on East Third Avenue. All of these meetings are open to the public.
By Betsy Finklea