D52 board January 2019

The Greenwood County School District 52 Board of Trustees pose with a statement of ethical principles they signed at the start of Tuesday’s board meeting.

NINETY SIX — Last May, teachers here were told they would not, as they thought when they signed their contracts, be getting annual salary bumps after 23 years of service.

On Tuesday night, Greenwood County School District 52 changed course.

At the recommendation of Superintendent Rex Ward, trustees voted to resume raising certified employees’ salaries until year 28 and provide those between years 24 and 28 with a pay bump to catch them up to where they would have been had their salaries not been frozen.

Ward said the reversal was a matter of being loyal to the district’s employees.

“We want to make it fair,” he said.

After 28 years of service, state employees can retire and draw full retirement benefits.

Those who are hired after July 1, 2019 will only receive pay increases until their 23rd year of service, as the state mandates.

Trustee Houston Matthews asked whether the district could also reverse course on its decision to cut the pay of retirees whom it currently employs.

Facing a $250,000 budget deficit last year, district administration came up with the money by moving all active retirees to year 8, without regard to the number of years they served. The decision affected 28 teachers, Ward said.

Ward said the district would not make a decision until March or April, when the district will have a better idea of its 2019-20 budget.

“We got caught up in a bunch of unfunded (state) mandates that really hurt us (last year),” Ward said.

Shortly thereafter, Board chairman Paul Cobb spoke about his experience at the South Carolina School Board Association Legislative Advocacy Conference, which he attended in December.

Of the 37 resolutions that were floated at the conference, two stood out, he said.

One would allow school districts to set their own date which the school year begins. The other would remove the salary cap for employed retirees, which took effect in 2013 and has made it difficult to lure experienced teachers back into the classroom.

At the conference, a representative from Horry County Schools told attendees that teachers in her district are retiring and working in schools in North Carolina, where they can make more money, according to Cobb.

Cobb said it is critical that districts have teachers with decades of experience who can mentor those who are new to the profession.

Earlier in the meeting, Josh Garvin, of the Greenwood-based accounting firm Manley Garvin LLC, told trustees the district received a clean audit for the 2018-18 school year on all three areas they analyzed: financial statements, internal controls and federal expenditures.

Garvin said the district had net revenue of $835,000 after the last school year, which brings its fund balance to $5.9 million, an amount that could cover more than five months of operating expenses. The Government Finance Officers Association recommends having no less that two months of operating expense funds on hand.

Immediately after Garvin’s presentation, Ward asked the board to approve moving the $835,000 into the district’s capital projects account.

The money would be used to replace the district’s smart boards, which, he said, are outdated. Any money left over would be used to replace the lights in the district with LEDs.

At several board meetings in the past year, Ward has championed making the district more energy efficient and putting the money that it would save into other capital projects.

Ward asked Garvin for his opinion on transferring the 2017-18 surplus to the capital projects account.

“I have no problem with that whatsoever,” Garvin said. He noted that the district would still have approximately 4.7 months of operating expenses in its fund balance.

Contact staff writer Aleks Gilbert at 864-943-5644.