Richland 1 considered teacher hiring freeze to balance next year’s budget

Richland 1 considered freezing teacher hiring after new projections show it will have to cut next year’s budget by roughly $8 million.

At a Monday budget session, the board considered saving money by freezing teacher hires, waiting longer to replace district vehicles, reducing spending on new technology and cutting other programs such as literacy and reading initiatives and recycling, according to school board documents obtained by The State.

However, district administrators are now reworking the budget to try to avoid teacher hiring freezes, said Richland 1 school board member Darrell Black.

“I personally wouldn’t be supportive of a teacher hiring freeze when we’re in a deficit (of teachers),” Black said.

The proposed freeze comes at a time when vacant teacher positions are increasing throughout South Carolina, according to a previous article from The State. Richland 1 currently has 154 teacher vacancies, Richland 1 spokeswoman Karen York said in an email.

The two main factors driving the budget deficit are: less revenue than projected and having to fund teacher pay increases, which were approved by state lawmakers earlier this year.

“This was not poor budgeting on the district’s part,” said Richland 1 school board member Lila Anna Sauls. “This is happening across the state.”

The fiscal year ends Sunday, June 30, and if the district doesn’t pass a budget before then, it will operate under a temporary budget that holds spending levels the same as this fiscal year, York said.

The school board was initially set to approve the budget at its Tuesday meeting, but removed the agenda item “at the administration’s request,” York said.

The district was never considering laying off teachers, Sauls said.

“We want as low an effect on the classrooms and the students as possible,” Sauls said.

The district had expected to bring in a maximum of $228,081,822 in tax revenue, so the district budgeted for that, said Richland County Treasurer Paul Brawley.

However, the county is only expecting to bring in between $226 million and $226.5 million for Richland 1 school district, said Richland County Treasurer David Adams. There have been no issues, glitches or otherwise shortcomings in this year’s tax collections, Adams said.

In contrast, the Lexington 1 school district is adding 69 full-time equivalent teachers throughout the district, according to a Wednesday press release. Lexington County, and its tax base, also benefits from explosive growth. Between 2010 and 2018, Lexington County’s population has increased 14 percent while Richland’s increased by 7.8 percent, according to a previous article from The State.

Richland 2 school district, which approved its budget June 10, did not see a budget shortfall because of teacher pay increases, spokeswoman Libby Roof said in an email.