Horry County Schools projects $21 million increase in expenses for coming school year

HCS board members use colored magnets to prioritize building projects

Horry County School board members work with a consultant to determine which projects in their five-year capital plan should be prioritized.
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Horry County School board members work with a consultant to determine which projects in their five-year capital plan should be prioritized.

Early projections for Horry County Schools show about a $13.5 million disparity in revenue compared to expenses for the 2019-20 school year.

John Gardner, the district’s chief financial officer, emphasized that these numbers — with a projected budget of nearly $450 million — are very preliminary and likely to change while the board works toward a final budget during the coming months.

If the numbers stand, the board would likely need to designate that $13.5 million from the district’s unassigned fund balance, which currently sits at about $25 million, according to Gardner.

Gardner explained that this wouldn’t necessarily mean the district ends up using any of that fund balance because staff vacancies often result in fewer expenses than projected. For context, Gardener showed that the board balanced last year’s budget with $16 million from its fund balance, but that balance ended up growing by about $8 million.

The preliminary numbers are based on a projected $21.4 million increase in expenses and $7.9 million increase in revenue for the 2019-20 school year.

Some of the projected increase in expenses are mandatory, including an estimated $4.5 million each for retirement and salary increases, while others are staff suggestions that would need board approval.

The staff suggestion that drew the most conversation during the board’s Feb. 4 meeting was an estimated $1.9 million to grow the district’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) program into elementary and middle schools in every attendance area.

Board member John Poston, who served on a committee tasked with studying a potential STEM program expansion, praised the possibility of bringing equity to all attendance areas, and Superintendent Rick Maxey urged board members to pay attention to how passionate the district’s current STEM students are about learning.

Suggested increases also included an estimated $2.1 million for more staff to serve an estimated increase of 397 students next year.

The district grew by just 131 students this year, according to the average daily attendance during the first 45 days, while it had projected a growth of nearly 840 students.

That disparity is a major reason why Gardner’s projections showed the 2018-19 revenue could fall about $5.5 million short of the $411.2 million that the board had projected when it finalized its 2018-19 budget.

Still, Gardner said he’s “not overly concerned” that the district will need to dip into its fund balance this year.

Budget conversations will continue in more depth during finance committee meetings.

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Investigative project reporter David Weissman joined The Sun News after three years working at The York Dispatch in Pennsylvania, where he earned awards for his investigative reports on topics including health, business, politics and education.