CLOVER — The Clover school district would hire about 37 more teachers and other employees, expand prekindergarten education and launch a high school program in manufacturing technology under a $69.1 million budget approved Monday by the school board.
The operating budget — about $5.2 million higher than last year — would include a net reduction in taxes on both homeowners and businesses. An increase in the school tax for operations, which falls on businesses, rental units and people who own second homes, would be offset by a greater decrease in the school tax for debt repayment.
That means homeowners would pay about $40 less in taxes per $100,000 of assessed property value. The amount of the decrease for business owners depends on the tax assessment of the business.
“We’ve been very frugal in our budget for the last number of years, and we’ve been accumulating our dollars and building our base funding level,” Clover Superintendent Marc Sosne said before the meeting. “We feel that now we can make a commitment to these programs we’ve been wanting to have better services for our children.”
Sosne and finance director Ken Love said Clover has for several years been funneling surplus operating money into construction expenses, such as a renovation of Clover High School. It also set aside about $25 million from budget surpluses in a building fund as a down payment on the $85 million in construction it will ask voters to approve in a 2014 bond referendum.
Now that Clover has reached its goal of saving $25 million toward planned construction, Sosne said, “we have confidence the money we’ve been putting away is money we can use for operations for students.”
Sosne said Clover has a “very secure” funding base. About 60 percent of the district’s operating tax revenue comes from the Catawba Nuclear Station on Lake Wylie, Love said. Love said Clover has built a strong tax base by consistently raising its operating taxes for almost 20 years, except in years when there was a property tax reassessment.
In the future, however, Love said, the district won’t have the same level of budget surpluses because it is investing that money into recurring expenses. “That money will now be going to enhance the instructional program,” he said.
The budget includes:
• $827,000 to hire six teachers and one guidance counselor at Clover High School and to purchase equipment for a new “mechatronics” course in modern manufacturing technology at the technical education center. The new positions include one for the mechatronics program, an additional Spanish teacher and four teachers for core courses.
Sosne said the high school will begin offering Advanced Placement French in the fall. “As we add more AP courses, it causes a scheduling challenge to make sure that we have enough teachers in the right places for students who are not in the AP or dual credit courses,” said Love.
• $300,000 to add four teachers at Oakridge Middle, $75,000 to add one teacher at Clover Middle and $75,000 to add two teaching assistants at Crowders Creek Elementary.
Sosne said some of the teaching positions are needed to begin offering French in both middle schools. The middle schools already offer Spanish, he said.
Others are needed for anticipated enrollment growth, which has been at about 2 percent to 3 percent in recent years, but is projected to increase to 5 percent to 6 percent, he said. “With growth begin very slow, and with us continuing to add a few positions each year, we’ve kept up with growth,” he said.
• $375,000 to add up to five teaching positions across the district as needed to maintain class sizes. Sosne said the teaching positions won’t be filled unless the expected growth happens. However, he said last year all the positions budgeted for growth were filled.
• $150,000 to add a nurse and school resource officer at the Blue Eagle Academy, an alternative school that this year serves third to 12th grades. Last year the program was expanded to include elementary school.
• $300,000 to hire teachers and assistants for three more 4-year-old preschool classes, bringing the total number of such classes to 15. The three classes will allow Clover to serve 60 more children and eliminate a waiting list for the program. Love said two teachers and two aides will be new hires; one teacher and an aide will move from other positions.
• $206,000 for three support personnel and two assistants for special education programs, including a school social worker and psychologist. “We have got to be more than just focused on educating them during the day,” Sosne said of students. “We also have to support families and kids in other areas outside academics.”
• $50,000 to upgrade computer lab employee salaries at the elementary school level to certified teaching positions.
• $80,000 to add another director at the district office. One retiring district office employee has been handling both school administrator training and all standardized testing, he said. Sosne said the new position will allow those duties to be separated into two positions.
“With both of those areas expanding greatly, I thought it was a good time to split that into two positions,” Sosne said. He said he eliminated a district office position about three years ago and is now reinstating that job.
• $300,000 for a pilot program to give 735 tablet computers to students and teachers. Selected teachers would use tablets and each student would receive one. All schools would participate in 2014-15.
• $180,000 to purchase new library books for three schools where the collections are outdated. Sosne said that will bring those libraries up to expected standards.
• Other budgeted expenses include $60,000 for athletic supplements, $50,000 to hire another district-level IT technician and $50,000 for “miscellaneous” expenses.
School districts typically wait until June to approve their budgets because state funding is often not set until June or later. But Love told board members he feels comfortable with expected state funding.
“We don’t really expect a substantial change,” he said.