Horry Schools approves $683 million budget as band uniforms dominate discussion

Horry County School board members approved their 2019-20 budget of more than $683.5 million with no tax increase.

The comprehensive budget is only about $213,000 higher than the one approved for 2018-19, but includes nearly $25.9 million in additional operational spending.

That increased spending is mostly offset by a sharp decrease in school building funding as numerous major projects have been or are close to being completed, including the renovation of North Myrtle Beach Middle School.

The budget projects an increase of 397 students next school year, which would require an additional $1.7 million for staffing. Last year, the budget projected an increase of 840 students, but the district added only 131.

Because projected costs outpace projected revenue, the budget uses about $18.5 million in unassigned fund balance, which is projected to be at about $25 million at the end of the current school year.

John Gardner, the district’s chief financial officer, has previously 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 the 2017-18 budget with $16 million from its fund balance, but that balance ended up growing by about $8 million.

The vote was not unanimous, as board member Holly Heniford voted against the budget after expressing disappointment that it wasn’t vetted by the board’s finance committee. The committee was scheduled to discuss the budget during its May 15 meeting, but that session wasn’t held because not enough committee members attended.

Council member Janice Morreale wasn’t present for Monday’s board meeting.

Discussion of the comprehensive budget was minimal Monday night as the board has been briefed on it regularly since February, but a motion to amend the budget to fund new band uniforms led to a lengthy conversation.

Board member Ray Winters motioned to include a recurring $100,000 in the budget primarily to begin replacing high school band uniforms, some of which he said were more than 20 years old.

As board member Shanda Allen would say toward the end of the discussion, the motion seemed to open “Pandora’s box.”

Numerous members expressed concerns about the timing of the motion, as chairman Ken Richardson noted that the band uniform issue was only brought up to him about 10 days earlier.

Board member Janet Graham also expressed reservations about the motion, noting that Conway High School, which is in her district, recently raised money through community fundraisers to pay for new uniforms, and she wanted assurance that the school would be reimbursed quickly for those costs if the funding was approved.

The motion ultimately failed, 6-4, with members Winters, Heniford, Sherrie Todd and David Cox voting in favor. A follow-up motion by Heniford to give each high school a $5,000 stipend per year for bands also failed after Richardson broke a 5-all tie.

The meeting represented the board’s final one for the 2018-19 school year, and its next meeting is scheduled for Aug. 5.
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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.