Every Horry County Schools employee would see a salary increase next school year with no plans to raise taxes under the district’s proposed 2021-22 budget.
The plan includes more than $9.4 million for the delayed implementation of an employee compensation study.
The district commissioned the study last year to see how it compared with similar districts and businesses in an effort to help improve employee retention and recruitment.
The study, presented to the school board last June, suggested that bringing staff salaries up to industry standards would cost $10 million to $14 million, but the board elected not to implement any increases due to uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.
The high end of that estimate would be if the district compared its instructional staff solely to the Charleston and Greenville school districts, which are the only districts with more students in the state.
The district raises would be on top of planned increases for teachers and nurses in the state budget that is still awaiting final approval.
HCS is also proposing increases for substitute teachers that would add about $1.3 million to the budget.
The suggested increases also come as South Carolina school districts face “a potentially catastrophic teacher retention crisis,” according to survey results an educator-led advocacy group released in March.
The SC for Ed survey, which garnered more than 2,000 responses from teachers and school staff in November, showed that 39% of respondents were not planning to return to their current positions.
Survey data showed 185 staff, including 166 teachers, from HCS responded, and more than 37% stated they were planning to quit before the start of the 2021-22 school year.
Concerns about safety in the classroom and not being respected as professionals were among the primary issues that respondents listed, though the most prominent complaint was about the lack of salary increases.
Use of fund balance and CARES Act funds
The proposed 2021-22 budget projects about $448.8 million in revenue and $475.3 million in expenses, leaving a $19.5 million shortfall, after other funding sources, that would need to come from the district’s fund balance.
HCS Chief Financial Officer John Gardner has frequently noted that the projected use of the fund balance in a given year’s budget is rarely fulfilled, primarily due to savings associated with staff vacancies. For example, the district’s 2020-21 budget projected using more than $11 million in fund balance, but Gardner said Monday that the fund balance is actually expected to grow by $8.1 million this year.
Aside from the employee salary increases, projected expenditure increases came from an increase of more than 1,800 students, which Gardner noted includes the likely return of students who left last year due to the pandemic.
Some of the increased expenditures are being offset by an increase in federal funding, primarily from the CARES Act, which is providing about $55.7 million to the district through 2023.
The district is proposing to use $31.3 million next year on items including air purification systems, HVAC upgrades and staffing for HCS Virtual, though Chief Academics Officer Boone Myrick told the board that projected costs associated with the virtual school will significantly decrease due to decreased enrollment.
The district had projected 5,000 students, but Velna Allen, chief officer of student services, said just 1,647 students have enrolled, and the deadline for making that decision expired April 30.
HCS Superintendent Rick Maxey also revealed Monday that the district was recently notified it would receive $125 million in additional CARES Act funding. Some board members expressed an interest in using that money for future building projects, but Gardner noted the funds must address pandemic-related costs.
Preliminary approval of the budget is set for the board’s May 17 meeting with a public hearing on June 7 before final approval.