Democrats advocate unconstitutional and irresponsible school board spending

Published in the Pawleys Island Coastal Observer- April 15, 2010

By Jill Kelso

The Georgetown County Republican Party has come out against an unconstitutional scheme by Democratic Representatives Vida Miller and Carl Anderson that would allow the county school board to borrow money to pay for operational deficit spending – something no unit of government in the state is allowed to do.

The party has asked Governor Sanford to veto Miller and Anderson’s legislation on the grounds that it’s unconstitutional.

The county GOP has also come out for more transparency from the school board, asking the board to post online a complete budget, an annual audited financial statement, a monthly check register, and board meeting minutes and decision documents.

What’s been the county Democratic Party response?

As to the unconstitutional scheme, effectively Democratic Party Chair Nancy Kolman says that unless you’re willing to violate the state constitution and be fiscally irresponsible you’re against public education. Sounds kind of like the rationale we’ve heard from the Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and President Obama concerning their healthcare bill.

As to the GOP proposal for more school district transparency, there has been utter silence from Democrats Kolman, Miller, Anderson, and others in the party leadership. The only Democrat that’s said one word publicly is school board chairman Jim Dumm, who says he supports the GOP proposals and should be applauded.

Perhaps transparency concerning school board spending is not something these Democrats want to see because the financial numbers that can be pieced together show a school board (both Democrats and Republicans) that over the years has engaged in spending taxpayer money at levels that are just not sustainable.

It came to taxpayers’ attention in 2001 that the school district had amassed a huge $28 million surplus, probably because of years of property tax rate errors. What’s a school board supposed to do with an unplanned surplus of that magnitude? Reduce tax rates and give it back to taxpayers?

No, instead the board spent the surplus just as fast as they could even under the threat of a class action lawsuit from taxpayers seeking to force a refund.

In 2006, during the boom in county real estate values, Georgetown County was required by law to reassess property values. The reassessment process is not supposed to result in property tax windfalls to local governments, however the school board worked to ensure that it did for them.

As a result of reassessment, according to county documents, property taxes collected by the school board for operations and debt service in fiscal year 2007 alone increased by an astounding $11 million, or 25%.

Beyond this huge windfall, the school board has managed to increase its overall property tax millage rate by 12 percent since 2006, according to state Commerce Department statistics.

From state Budget and Control Board and SC Department of Education reports, in 2008 the school board spent $126.4 million, including local property taxes, and state and federal funds, to educate 9,921 students, which is an incredible $12,741 per student.

Of the $126.4 million, only 45 percent was actually spent in the classrooms for instructional purposes.

And at the same time this unsustainable spending level was growing, the school district lost over 800 students from its peak enrollment in 1995.

Instead of working to impose needed fiscal discipline on the school board and getting them to open their financial records, county Democrats are working at being deficit spending enablers, just like we see in Washington with Congress.

And ultimately the working families in Georgetown County, who are struggling to live within their means in this economy, will end up footing the bill for their folly.

Jill Kelso lives in Murrells Inlet and is a member of the state Republican Party executive committee