Citizens Advocating Responsible Education (CARE) does not oppose referendums that support public education per se but we do not support this referendum primarily because we have no confidence in the school district leadership or the school board’s ability to provide adequate financial oversight.
CARE, a coalition of parents, teachers, and community members, was organized in the fall of 2015 following Superintendent Jeff Moss’s nepotism scandal. Without a doubt, we all want what’s best for students, but given the lack of proven need and loss of trust surrounding this referendum, we urge everyone to vote “no” on April 21.
Immediate overcrowding issues have been addressed by purchasing mobile classrooms, which will be in place by August at River Ridge and Pritchardville.
More than half of this referendum ($45 million) is purportedly allocated for a school in Bluffton that may not be built for five years. No evidence was presented to justify the construction of three career and technical buildings in Bluffton, Beaufort, and Hilton Head. This is simply an effort to win votes in Beaufort and Hilton Head.
Growth will continue in Bluffton, but not all of it will consist of families with school-age children. Before committing to new school construction, an external review of facilities, enrollment and growth is required and should be done by an impartial third-party selected by the school board.
If the referendum is approved, taxes on debt will increase by 7 percent. If passed, the referendum will add $139 million to our total debt obligation for a total of $486 million — a 40 percent increase
The new debt will be reflected on your residential property taxes, as well as taxes on your cars and boats. Businesses also pay for school debt and operations. These cost increases will likely be passed on to the consumer.
In addition, this special election will cost $110,000. If the referendum were on the ballot in November, the cost would be $10,000.
Even more important, there is an unmistakable, unprecedented lack of trust in both the Moss administration and the school board throughout the district. The nepotism scandal continues to haunt us. After insisting for 10 months that he did nothing wrong, the Superintendent pleaded guilty to two ethics violations and was fined and reprimanded by the State Ethics Commission. And yet, the Moss majority on the school board rewarded him with performance bonuses of more than $70,000 in the last two years.
Initially the superintendent proposed a referendum of $128 million and the numbers changed from one meeting to the next. Later, board member Mary Cordray, working covertly with a pro-referendum group, suggested $76 million to the group before even sharing that number with the school board. In early December, with no warning and virtually no debate, it was approved by the Moss majority 6-to-5.
If that does not convince you, consider that an FBI investigation is now underway related to the construction of May River High and River Ridge Academy, the same schools that would benefit from this referendum. We cannot support this referendum while this investigation is unresolved.
The ballot does not include specific costs for the projects. It is intentionally vague. May River High — originally estimated to cost $35 million — ended up costing nearly $70 million. How can we trust any estimates from the Moss administration?
The superintendent acknowledges that lack of trust was a key factor in the failed 2016 referendum. Neither the superintendent nor the majority school board members have done anything since then to restore trust. In fact, the school board chairman recently told his colleagues, “this is the worst board I have seen in more than 20 years.”
We agree and believe a responsible plan to address all issues will be developed only after the election of new board members in November, when the rubber-stamp Moss-majority is retired.
Meantime, we urge you to vote “no” on April 21.
Richard Bisi of Hilton Head Island is co-founder Citizens Advocating Responsible Education (CARE).