By Barney Blakeney
This week as teachers in South Carolina marched on the S.C. Statehouse to protest legislators for more benefits for themselves and their students, Charleston County School Board contemplates a new budget for the upcoming school year. School board members were asked how the proposed general fund budget of about $500 million will impact Black students and others who most need services.
The board earlier this month gave first reading approval to the budget that includes $536.2 million for the general fund, $288.6 million for capital improvements and $115.1 million for debt service for a total $939.9 million. The board is expected to give second and final reading of the budget May 28.
Board Chairman Rev. Eric Mack said the 2019-2020 school budget has been crafted to address some specific needs of the district’s most challenged schools. $5 million has been placed in the budget to do that, he said. The board will go to the community for input about that spending in June, Mack added.
“We’re compiling the data from various reports such as the Clemson Inclusion and Equity report to insure schools have the resources they need. We know what’s not working, but we have got to make changes now. As changes are proposed we’ll engage more dialogue with the community. We will be making some bold decisions and moves to insure schools are not left out of the equation. Everybody may not be happy about the decisions,” Mack said.
Todd Garrett, the Constituent District 20 representative on the board and its finance Committee chairman said, “I told the superintendent that before we vote on the final budget, we need to know from her specifically how this will help students grow this year, particularly our poorest students. This board has said yes to every request or recommendation over the last four years – what have been the results?
“We have improved, but we still have a long way to go. The number of African-American students reading on grade level by grade three has gone from 16 percent to 22 percent. The percentage (of students) ready to start Trident Tech without remediation has increased from 10 percent to almost 50 percent. The percentage of African-American students who earn a silver or gold work keys certificate, or who are college ready has increased to almost 10 percent, but they still lag behind other sub groups (White and Latino).
“Our system still fails too many kids,” Garrett said. “The segregated feeder systems that we still have in pockets (Sanders Clyde, Simmons Pinckney, Burke for example) result in worse results for poor African-American students than our larger integrated feeder patterns do. Some of what we are doing is resulting in gains, but a lot isn’t. The district knows what works, but often there isn’t the political will to cut or change what we know doesn’t work because it involves the jobs of adults. Before approving the budget, I want to know and hear in public what isn’t working for our students, what they recommend doing about it, and what results we should see next year if it works.”