D29 board approves budget, $237,279 in summer projects

First Byline: 
Jonathan Vickery - Managing Editor

An increase in anticipated tax revenue is helping Williston District 29 in its budget process.
The district originally projected $6,920,549 in revenue for the 2014-15 school year, however, they are projecting additional local and state tax revenues. This would increase revenue to $7,149,432.
This will help the district pay for additional expenses they wanted to add, including new teaching positions and additional days for some employees, while decreasing the amount they need to take from their reserve fund.
During the first reading of the budget last month, the district anticipated needing $343,886 from their reserves to balance the budget. During the second reading of the budget June 10, Superintendent Dr. Tom Siler said they now project to need only $102,296.
The added revenue will help pay for several new expenses the district is looking to add next year, including $32,900 worth of contract day extensions for guidance counselors, transportation director, food service director, and one staff member at each school to work during the summer. The nurse at the middle and high schools will also be moved from part time to full time, according to the budget.
A 2 percent step increase for certified and support staff is also being budgeted as is $39,436 to pick up the increase for health insurance premiums for all employees, according to budget documents.
Three new teaching positions are being added, including one in second grade and two middle school science and social studies teachers, to help with academics, Siler said. This will cost $109,206 for salaries and benefits.
The district is also increasing the hourly wage for bus drivers to $10 to be more competitive in attracting qualified workers, he said.
The board unanimously approved the second reading of the budget.
The third and final reading will be held Tuesday, June 24, at 7 p.m.
In other financial news, the district approved to continue a six-year trend of summer renovations by selling bonds.
Part of the $237,279 project is focused on improving security by rekeying the high school, adding cameras on eight school buses, replacing outdated VHS security camera systems at the middle and high schools, and adding four cameras to the district office. A partition and door will also be added to the band room to help prevent another incident like the one earlier this year where a box of money disappeared while in the director's office, said Siler.
The rest of the project provides upgrades to facilities. This includes painting the middle school halls and cafeteria, replacing carpet in the middle school office, painting the district office hall, and performing asbestos abatement for some rooms at the elementary school. They will also purchase a new mini-bus to replace their aging one.
To pay for the projects, the district will sell up to $260,000 worth of bonds, which they will pay back at an interest rate of 1 percent or less, Siler said.
In other news:
The board approved to pay Barnwell County $8,616 for its share of fees to reappraise condemned property at the Savannah River Site. The reappraisal was done on property the federal government took in the 1950s from Barnwell County to build the nuclear site. Each year, the county and school districts receive money from the Department of Energy for the property.
The summer feeding program is underway and has fed more than 90 children each day at lunch.
"It's probably the only hot meal some children will receive," said board chairman Billy Williams.
The middle and high schools were recognized with flags for receiving the Palmetto Silver and Gold awards, respectively.