DARLINGTON, S.C. – A small increase in funding from the state boosted the Darlington County School District’s general operations budget for the coming year to nearly $95.4 million from what had been just over $95.1 million.

The Darlington County Board of Education gave unanimous final approval to the budget Monday during its regular meeting.

“This budget does include some much needed raises for employees,” board Chairman Warren Jeffords said. “This is a really good budget.”

Hartsville board member Charles Govan agreed. He thanked the district administration “for ensuring that all of our employees get a raise.”

Most of the state increase of $268,000 will help cover retirement increases, district Chief Financial Officer Renee Douglas said. Some will also help add 2 percent to a pay increase for school bus drivers, Douglas said.

Teachers and almost all state workers are getting a raise in South Carolina's new $9 billion budget.

The state budget sets aside $160 million for raises for teachers, who will all get at least a 4 percent bump in pay. It also has a 2 percent raise for all state employees as well as a $500 bonus for state workers who make less than $50,000.

The new district budget represents an increase of almost $5.9 million over the current year’s budget.

Superintendent of Education Tim Newman said in May that the increase in the budget is aimed at improving instruction in district schools.

The budget includes a 4 percent pay raise for district teachers and all other district employees.

The total cost of the 4 percent teacher raise and the step increase is projected at more than $2.7 million, with related fringes projected at $805,325 for a total of more than $3.5 million. Revenue figures include a little more than $1.87 million in additional funds from the state to cover a portion of the teacher raises, leaving the district with almost $1.7 million to pick up for its portion of the raises and fringes.

The budget will raise the starting pay for teachers from its current level of $35,000 per year to $39,000. But it also includes a $1,000 inducement bonus for the new budget year for first-year teachers only, putting the total for first-year teachers in the new budget at $40,000. The district was already in “pretty good shape” with a starting salary of $35,000, which is higher than most surrounding districts, Superintendent of Education Tim Newman said.

The increase for first-year teachers together with the 4 percent raise for all teachers and a step increase for teachers (based on years of experience) will put the average raise for all teachers across the district at 6.8 percent, officials said. Some will get more, some less, but all will get at least 4 percent.

Officials say that will put the district among the top paying districts for teachers in the Pee Dee and the state.

The increases are aimed at keeping the district competitive with other districts in attracting and keeping good teachers, officials say.

“One of the best things we can do for our kids is to hire the best teachers we can,” Douglas said during a May 30 budget work session. “What we wanted was to make sure we are very competitive with our neighbors.”

She also said the extra money for bus drivers is important, because it is becoming harder to hire school bus drivers.

A 4 percent raise for non-certified or non-teaching district employees is not covered by the state and will mean another nearly $978,000 expense to the district. Fringes for those positions will add about $318,000 as well. Officials said those increases are also aimed at keeping the district competitive with neighboring district in attracting and keeping good employees.

What all of that means, according to district officials:

>> No district teacher will be paid less than $39,000 (first-year teachers also receive a $1,000 bonus).

>> No district teacher will receive less than a 4 percent raise; plus their step increase; teachers will see an average salary increase of 6.8 percent over their current year’s salary.

>> All other district employees will receive at least a 4 percent pay raise.

The budget also includes $450,000 to fund salaries and fringes for nine new positions, all school-level instructional positions, Newman said. Some of those are for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and arts positions, and some will help keep student-teacher ratios down at the elementary level, officials said.

In its present form, the general operations budget comes with a property tax increase of 4.39 mills, the maximum amount allowable under a state-imposed cap based on a Consumer Price Index (CPI) increase of 2.13 percent. The millage increase will apply to commercial properties only, not to owner-occupied homes, under state law, officials said.

That increase is projected to generate approximately $800,000 in new revenue for the school district.

Revenue from local sources is projected at nearly $35.9 million for the new budget year, an increase of $2.5 million. Total state revenue is expected to be almost $54 million with the $268,000 in additional money, an increase of more than $1.1 million.

Transfers from other funds are expected to bring in another $5.4 million.

The new budget year starts on July 1.