The Aiken County School Board unanimously approved on final reading Tuesday, May 22, the Aiken County Public School District's 2018-19 budget with a step increase for all eligible employees and a 2 percent cost of living adjustment for all employees.

As a late addition to the budget, Board members approved adding $25 to the state's supplement of $275 for teachers to buy supplies for a total of $300. The motion passed by a vote of seven to one. Tad Barber opposed the motion, and Jeremy Mace was not present.

The general fund budget, which includes local and state revenue, salaries and supplies, will be $196,096,315, a $3.1 million increase over the 2017-18 budget. The total budget is $395.6 million.

Tray Traxler, the district's chief officer of finance, outlined highlights of the budget as follows:

• Funding to contract with a substitute teacher service

• Funding for the new Aiken Scholars Academy, which will open at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year at USC Aiken

• Funding to provide a minimum of one full-time guidance counselor for every elementary school

• Funding for four new teachers to teach English as a second language

• Funding for high school fine arts programs

• Funding to staff a safety monitor at every middle school

• Funding for six additional full-time custodians for the new additions at Aiken High and North Augusta High

• Creating a technology curriculum specialist position

• Implementing the third and final phase of service credit, which bases salaries on years of experience.

The operating millage rate would remain unchanged compared to 2017-18, Traxler said. The debt service millage rate would increase by five mills for 2018-19 because of the school bond referendum voters approved May 1, he said. The bond will help fund six construction projects.

Because the S.C. House and Senate have not finalized the 2018-19 state budget, Traxler said he would return to the Board with any amendments to the district's budget when the state budget is passed in late June or July.

The Board heard construction updates on Phase IIB construction at Aiken High and North Augusta High.

At Aiken High, work has begun on the new auxiliary gym and classrooms for art, child care, ROTC, band and chorus.

Phase IIB construction at Aiken High should be complete by April 2019. The cost is $16 million.

The new student parking lot outside the cafeteria on east side of the Aiken High campus is complete.

At North Augusta High, construction has begun on the new two-story classroom building, which should be complete in November. The cost is $39.9 million.

Both construction projects receive funding from the 1 percent sales tax voters approved in November 2014.

“We're progressing and doing well,” Dr. Shawn Foster, the district's chief officer of Operations and Student Services, said about both projects.

Larry Wood covers education for the Aiken Standard.