Well, that didn’t take long. As early as this fall, Charleston County homeowners could be asked to subsidize teacher salaries, which has largely been a state responsibility since a controversial 2007 tax swap.
A resolution approved by Charleston County’s House delegation on Wednesday would allow the district to borrow money to make good on teacher salaries.
The state is expected to fall short on funding districts, leading to cost cutting that would likely mean fewer teachers in many South Carolina districts. If the Charleston County School District decides to take out the loan this year or next, it would be repaid through a property tax increase, says finance director Michael Bobby.
In 2007, the legislature approved a tax swap that added a penny to South Carolina’s sales tax to pay for the portion of school operating costs paid by homeowners statewide. That money primarily pays for teacher salaries and benefits.
Since then, revenue hasn’t matched rising education costs. In January, state economists projected a $99 million shortfall between school costs and sales tax collections. That was expected to climb to $112 million by 2012.
"It has painted us in a corner," says resolution author Rep. Leon Stavrinakis (D-West Ashley). "What we’re looking at is scary and, by definition, a crisis."
Other legislators are also trying to address the issue with a temporary freeze in mandated teacher bonuses and salary increases.
In the face of ongoing state cuts, districts like Charleston County have already found creative ways to address budget concerns, redefining items like computers as a capital expense, paid for out of local property taxes in a pot that isn’t limited in the same way as the state-capped operating budget.