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Adequate school funding and the need to provide more information to the public about decisions being made by the York school board are top issues among candidates for the District 3 seat.
Incumbent Chris Revels, a former school board chair, is finishing his second four-year term in the District 3 seat. He is being challenged by political newcomer Bob Bostic, a U.S. military retiree who sees a need for fresh voices. District 3 covers a large rural area west of York.
Revels, 53, said the school district has made great improvement in the last four years and has been fiscally responsible, but also has been hurt by changes in property taxes and cuts in state funding. Bostic, 54, said fresh views are needed on the board, and he wants to “make a difference.”
The role of school board members is to hire and evaluate the performance of the superintendent, who serves as the school district’s top administrator, to set district policy and make budget decisions. Many school board members also track state policies that relate to education and lobby state lawmakers for policies favorable to local schools.
Revels said the district’s A-plus bond rating is evidence of its good financial management and due in part due to its ability to maintain a financial reserve fund, or fund balance. The rating has enabled the district to get low interest rates to build schools, such as the new York Comprehensive High School, and to upgrade older schools, he said.
But state funding cuts to education and a statewide property tax reform measure known as Act 388 has forced the district to dip into its financial reserves in the past two years, Revels said, a practice he said can’t continue.
“If the trend continues like it has over the past two years, our reserves are going to continue to decline, because we’re having to dip into our reserves to make up for funding that we’re not receiving from the state, which is of great concern to me,” said Revels.
He said the district has managed its money well and has aggressively sought and won grants to help with many of its costs. It also has avoided the teacher and staff layoffs that hit some schools across South Carolina.
“But we can’t continue down the road we’re on. We need total tax reform,” Revels said. That reform needs to be “a more equal and fair distribution of those taxes,” he said.
Act 388 exempted owner-occupied homes from property taxes that pay for school operations. Many businesses complain they have been hurt by shouldering the full burden of property tax funding for school operations.
In place of the property tax revenue from homeowners, the law added a penny on the dollar to the state sales tax, to make up the difference. It didn't. The economy spiraled into a recession and many growing school districts, including those in York, say they've lost out on a load of money.
Bostic said his priority is to see that each child in school has the opportunity to receive the highest quality education. “This requires the best educators available, which, of course, requires a well-rounded budget,” he said.
Bostic said the current school board has done an excellent job in managing the district’s financial affairs and has kept budget cuts to a minimum.
“I am aware there are changes coming from the state that will affect budgets and available monies,” he said. “If elected, I will study the current budget, identify sources of money, see how it is spent and make any decisions based on that information.”
Bostic also said he will “encourage our teachers and administrators to apply for grants to fund educational projects and purchase additional technology needed to maintain our students’ level of competitiveness.”
Revels said York schools have made big strides in growing educational achievement. During his tenure, he said, the district implemented a testing system called MAPS, or Measure of Academic Progress, that enables teachers to see each student’s strengths and weaknesses.
York schools also have added advanced courses that prepare students for college, as well as technical courses that allow them to leave high school with skills valued in the job market, he said.
However, he also noted that budget cuts have prevented the district from starting a planned cosmetology program at the Floyd D. Johnson Technology Center. He’d also like to see it begin a program on Geographic Information Systems, or GIS.
He said more York students are taking college entrance exams such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test, and special academic tutoring programs are in place to help those who are struggling.
“It’s all about the learning now, whereas before it was about the teaching,” Revels said. “We have so many programs in place where students can catch back up if they get behind in a class, or if they need help, we have people there who are able to help them.”
Bostic said he has no specific issues with the performance of the current board, but said he sees a need for fresh views.
“I think it is time, however, for new voices with fresh ideas to be heard as we continue to move forward with the practice of improving the education of our children and maximizing community involvement in our school system,” he said.
Bostic said he’s has many people tell him that “more information about school board meetings should be put out to the public. Rather than just the date and time of the meetings, the citizens want more details about what’s going on, which subjects will be discussed and if decisions are being made.”
He said such information “needs to be put in the newspapers, not just on the district’s web site.”
As a new board member, he said, “I will not go in with an agenda, but with a willingness to listen, learn and serve our children and community.”
Revels said he sees a need for greater control at the local level. He said he is concerned about some statewide initiatives proposed in the General Assembly, such as a state teaching grading system.
He’s also opposed to one proposal to hand over the operation of school buses, which is now managed by the state, to local school districts. He is concerned about the financial impact of such a proposal.
In regard to the proposed teacher grading system, Revels said he is in favor of holding teachers accountable, but said such systems have been problematic in other states. He does not know how salaries would be affected by the grade.
“Decisions are being made at other levels than the school board that highly impact school districts, without a lot of research. And people who aren’t in education, they don’t think about these things,” he said.
Revels said he believes in taking care of the district’s employees and would like to see York teachers receive a pay supplement that is comparable to those in other York County districts. The teacher pay scale is set by the state; school districts can supplement that pay with extra money.
“We’ve got teachers that go the extra mile,” Revels said. “I’d like to see pay parity with our adjoining districts, so our teachers are able to make what teachers in our adjoining districts make.”
He said he’d also like to see the district expand extracurricular activities, such as by adding the sport of lacrosse to its athletic program.
“It’s all about preparing students to step into the real world,” Revels said. “And sometimes these extracurricular activities can give them that experience, whether it be from a winning attitude or learning to cope with things when they don’t go so well. That’s preparing people for real-life situations.”
Bostic said he would approach his first few months on the board as a learning process, “during which I will familiarize myself with current policies and procedures, while also working with the other members to make the good decisions our district employees, parents and citizens expect.”