Like many communities across South Carolina and the Southeast, Greenville County faces a dilemma: the population is increasing faster than the revenue required to provide necessary services for that growth.
That was the bottom-line assessment of a roundtable discussion Dec. 4 at County Square in which Greenville County Schools Superintendent Burke Royster briefed a gathering of county and municipal leaders on the impact of the region’s growth on school operations.
The meeting was hosted by Greenville County Council and brought together county, municipal and school district leaders to discuss a challenge all local governments face – how to maintain and expand services to a rapidly growing population.
The bulk of the time was devoted to Royster, who presented a snapshot of Greenville County Schools’ operations with particular emphasis on the impact of population growth on school district finances.
Excluding the decline in enrollment during the pandemic, Greenville County Schools have absorbed on average about 800 new students each year since 2014, Royster said. Each additional student adds about $11,500 for an annual increase of about $9.3 million to the district’s operational budget.
The problem, Royster said, is the added expenses grow faster than the revenue needed.
He added while state funding does increase with added enrollment, it doesn’t cover the entire cost of each new student. This leaves the burden to cover the difference on the local school district.
That challenge comes down to either cutting expenses — and thus likely reducing the quality of education the district provides — or increasing revenue through higher taxes.
Since the General Assembly passed Act 388 more than a decade ago removing property taxes on owner-occupied homes from funding school operating budgets, the gap in funding between what GCS receives from the state and what it would have received from owner-occupied property taxes has grown with each passing year, Royster said.
He said the purpose of his briefing was to inform other local governments about the impacts of growth on school operations. He added this was particularly important when considering each new home ultimately translates into more students.
Royster was joined by members of the GCS board of trustees and by representatives from several municipalities, among them Greer, Greenville, Fountain Inn and Travelers Rest.
Following Royster’s presentation, a number of local leaders posed questions about growth and what the school district was looking for from other local governments.
Royster said he would like GCS to “have a seat at the table” in discussions about growth and development.
County Council Chairman Dan Tripp said it was important for local government officials to communicate better about their shared challenges and collaborate on solutions where possible. He added he looked forward to convening similar meetings of local leaders in the future.
Greenville County Schools growth fast facts:
- GCS has gained on average 842 students annually since 2014 (excluding pandemic years of 2020-21).
- Costs for student-population growth have gone up on average about $3.8 million annually during the past 10 years.
- Each new student costs about $11,500 in additional expenditures per year.
- For every 10 $250,000 homes built in the county, 6.3 new students are added to GCS’ rolls.