Richland One leaders respond to reports of multi-million dollar mistake in budget

Richland One leaders respond to reports of multi-million dollar mistake in budget

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Leaders in Richland School District One had to field questions from parents after newspaper reports said the district made a $4.5 million budgeting error.

Superintendent Craig Witherspoon said they have not mishandled the funding and wanted to explain exactly how the budgeting process works.

“Let’s be clear,” he said. “There has been no deficit either. As a part of the budget process, we have a list of needs. On the other side of the ledger, you have the revenue amounts. So you have to take that list of needs and prioritize to match your revenue.”

Witherspoon said the 2019-2020 budget hasn’t been finalized and any expenditures listed in earlier financial reports that are now absent were needs that they were hoping to receive funding for.

He said they modify those reports as they learn how much funding they actually will receive.

Some taxpayers at the meeting believe that the school board is handling things correctly.

“I trust the school board,” said Richland County taxpayer Robert Reese.

But many parents don’t feel the same way.

“We want to believe in transparency,” said one mother who spoke at the meeting. “But you have to understand the position we’re in as taxpayers.”

Board member Beatrice King said she wants to focus on making sure financial cuts aren’t happening in the classroom.

She’s questioned the filling of two administrative positions during this process, as the district works to make sure they can pay teacher salaries with the state-mandated increase.

“I put kids in classrooms before I put hiring new administrators,” King said. “We recently hired two highly paid positions, which, in my opinion, were actually new positions. That eats up a quarter of a million dollars.”

The superintendent said they’re still working on that budget and tells WIS this year’s process is no different from any other.

Now, the board is focused on how they will balance the budget before the school year with the teacher pay increase, as well as some other mandates.

Superintendent Witherspoon said the 2019-2020 budget will still need to have its third reading before being finalized.

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