New buses on the list of requests for Horry County Schools next year

vgrooms@thesunnews.comFebruary 17, 2014 

— An investment in new school buses was one of the requests presented to the Horry County school board Monday night as part of a preliminary look at the budget for the 2014-15 school year.

The proposed general fund is about $341 million for next year, including about $8.5 million in additional revenue the district expects, pending whatever actions come later from the legislature. The board had to use $7.2 million from its fund balance for the 2013-14 budget and would have a surplus for the next year if there weren’t additional costs to be considered, said John Gardner, chief financial officer for Horry County Schools.

“We wanted to give the board a high level of what to expect,” Gardner said. “This is what we’re projecting, and we’re presenting it earlier so we can go ahead and start those conversations now.”

The district figured in known costs, such as $1.7 million for the continuation of the personalized digital learning initiative, which is putting a digital device in the hands of each student over three years. The initiative launched in January, providing iPads for all middle schools students, and will continue next year as it is implemented in the high schools.

Other budget adjustments included $3.6 million for STEP increases for about 75 percent of the district’s employees, who have not reached the top of their respective pay scales, and another $1.7 million to give a 2 percent increase for employees who are not eligible for a STEP increase.

A STEP increase equals about 2 percent, Gardner said, and employees who are not eligible for STEP increases did not receive extra compensation in 2013-14.

Transportation was part of the presentation, with the district seeking 10 new school buses next year as part of a replacement cycle for district-owned buses. Deputy Superintendent Rick Maxey said the buses are $84,000 each for a total of $840,000.

Maxey said bus ridership has nearly doubled in 11 years, from 12,809 student riders in 2003 to 22,372 in 2014. Seven new schools and two new programs have been added in that same time frame, he said, and the district has chosen to transport students living within 1.5 miles of their school – which the state doesn’t support – as well as to transport students to the academies and programs such as the Scholars Academy, at a cost of $1.2 million.

The district uses state-owned buses, but there are specific requirements that must be followed for their use. The fleet is supplemented with 46 district-owned buses for established routes – 35 of which are more than 20 years old – and 59 activity buses, 21 of which are more than 16 years old.

The district is asking for a phased replacement cycle of five years for the routed buses, purchasing eight buses per year, which would bring the fleet’s age to under 15 years by 2019. For activity buses, the district wants to eliminate 19 of the oldest buses, bringing the fleet’s age down to 16 years, and buy between two and five buses over the next five years, starting with two buses for 2014-15.

Gardner said that without having new estimates on state funding, the district would need about $11.53 million if all of the presented items are approved. The transportation request, however, was not figured into the current general fund estimate, he said, because there are other options that can be considered for bus purchases.

Contact VICKI GROOMS at 443-2401 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_VickiGrooms.

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