Voters approve $162.7 million school bond referendum

April 27, 2008 

  • Voting for: 5,222 Voting against: 4,800 Turnout: About 12 percent * Based 98 percent of the county's precincts The $162.7 million referendum will pay for: NEW CONSTRUCTION • Bluffton-area elementary school one: $22.4 million, to open in 2010 • Bluffton-area elementary school two: $25.5 million, to open in 2012 • Early learning centers at M.C. Riley and Bluffton elementary schools: $10.1 million each LAND • For Bluffton-area elementary school two: $5.9 million • For future Bluffton-area middle school: $14.8 million • For future Lady's Island elementary school: $1.9 million • For future Bluffton high school: $20.7 million ADDITIONS AND UPGRADES • 650-seat auditorium at Beaufort High: $9.7 million • Gym at Broad River Elementary: $2 million • Replace gym and add classrooms at Mossy Oaks Elementary: $2.5 million • Upgrade band and drama room at H.E. McCracken Middle School: $373,000 RENOVATIONS AND MODIFICATIONS • $14.9 million for Battery Creek schools • $10.5 million for Beaufort schools • $6.6 million for Hilton Head Island schools • $3.8 million for Bluffton schools

Voters approved the Beaufort County School District's $162.7 million bond referendum by a narrow margin on Saturday, according to preliminary results from the county's Board of Elections.

With about 98 percent of the county's precincts counted, results show the measure passed by 422 votes. The district's last two referendums, in 2000 and 2006, passed by over 2,000 each.

"I was hoping for a larger margin," said Board of Education secretary Laura Bush. "A win is a win. You always hope to win by a large margin."

Bush plans to review specific precinct results later in the week. The district may need to reach out to communities that did not support the measure, she said.

District Superintendent Valerie Truesdale said she's grateful the measure passed.

"I'm just humbled by the folks that in tough economic times still support our schools," she said.

Susan Jacobsen, co-chairwoman of LowCountry KidsFirst, a community group recruited by the district to promote the referendum, said the close margin was not a shock.

"In all honesty, we just really didn't know what it would be," she said.The group had hoped for a better turnout.

"Of course I wish it was more," she said. "But we're satisfied and we're grateful to the people who came out."

About $120 million will be spent south of the Broad River, and just over $40 million to the north.

The main components of the package voters approved include:

• Two new Bluffton elementary schools

• Two new Bluffton early learning centers

• Money to purchase land for future Bluffton middle and high schools

Officials have said building new schools is essential to alleviate overcrowding in Bluffton, where many students learn in outdoor mobile classrooms.

For example, currently, the combined enrollment of Bluffton, Michael C. Riley and Okatie Elementary schools is about 2,723. The combined capacity of those three schools is about 1,824.

In saying "yes" to the measure, voters also approved a 650-seat auditorium for Beaufort High School and a physical education facility for Battery Creek High School.

Voter turnout for the election was about 12 percent, according to Board of Elections Web site on Saturday night. Turnout for the district's last two bond referendums was roughly the same.

Cora and Ed McCormick brought their second-grader, son Ryan, along when they voted at the Bluffton library.

Cora and Ed want their son to spend his days inside an actual school building, rather than in a mobile classroom outside M.C. Riley.

"They should take the portables away," Ryan said just after he helped his parents cast their votes. "They're hot and stinky and dirty."

Ken James, who has a grandson in Hilton Head Island International Baccalaureate Elementary School, supported the proposal when he voted at Hilton Head Island School for the Creative Arts. He said building new schools to handle population growth in Bluffton should be a top priority, even if it means the district needs to spend more money there than in other areas.

"There's been a lot of talk about south of the Broad and north of the Broad, but we need to educate all of our children," he said.

Voters who didn't support the proposal Saturday told the Packet that they were wary of trusting the district after approving $44 million for three new schools -- two of them south of the Broad -- in 2006. Those buildings are not yet complete.

James Cake of Sun City Hilton Head voted against the measure.

"We feel the dollars we (approved) for schools a few years ago, they weren't spent properly," Cake said.

He is particularly concerned that new schools approved two years ago are not yet constructed. And he's not worried about students in mobiles.

"Classrooms are classrooms, whether they're mobile or not," he said. "There's chairs and air conditioning and a teacher."

Truesdale said Saturday the district will monitor the progress of the projects just approved, and has a new commitment to maintaining existing facilities.

Bob Arundell, the education's board's vice chairman, said new members are working well together, have a strong group dynamic, and will handle the current projects responsibly. Voters elected five new board members, including Arundell, in 2006.

District officials will meet Monday to firm up construction schedules for the new

projects.

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