The League of Women Voters boards of both the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Area (LWVHHI-BA) and Beaufort Area (LWVB) endorse approval of the Beaufort County School District bond referendum on Nov. 5.
Following national League protocols, led by the LWVHHI-BA, our study prior to taking this position consisted of interviews with members of the Community Project Review Committee to determine the reasons for their recommendation to endorse a bond referendum, visits to schools to ascertain the need for repairs, and meeting with new superintendent Frank Rodriguez and facilities staff.
Here’s why we recommend a “yes” vote on both referendum questions:
▪ Real needs are addressed by the referendum, and they cannot be addressed adequately except by passing the referendum. By law, capital projects cannot be financed from the school’s operating budget. Without a referendum, the school district can only borrow up to 8% of the assessed value of all property in Beaufort County. These 8% funds are generally for maintenance, and present maintenance needs will cost more than 8% funds would finance.
With the failure of two prior referenda in 2016 and 2018, the Capital Projects and maintenance needs to be addressed by this referendum are even more urgent.
In addition, there has been no approved referendum by citizens of Beaufort County in 11 years.
▪ In developing the referendum, the school district sought and received input reflective of Beaufort County’s diversity. The membership and efforts of the Community Project Referendum Committee (CPRC) also provided input from all of the district’s school communities.
▪ The referendum targets concerns of parents and community members, such as overcrowding, school safety, equity in school facilities, schooling, and Career and Technology Education (CATE). While several of the identified projects are school-specific, there are projects that are for schools across the whole district, e.g. safety and security upgrades and also technology upgrades. A district-wide projects by cluster listing is available on the district website..
▪ The proposed referendum request is in line with those proposed historically by South Carolina school districts. In the past 10 years, Beaufort County school enrollment has increased by 17% and is now over 22,000 students. Aiken’s school population is not too different. It has about 24,000 students, but in the past 10 years, it has increased by less than half of one percent. It passed referendums of $236 million in 2010, $188 million in 2014 and $90 million in 2018. Lexington County has grown by 21% in the last ten years and has almost 27,000 students. It passed a bond referendum for $336 million in 2008 and one for $365 million in 2018.
▪ By law, money from the bond referendum cannot be used for anything other than the specific projects listed in the referendum. This legal restraint, in concert with the planned implementation of an district/community oversight committee, will provide accountability with responsibility for monitoring the development and completion of the projects should the referendum be approved.
▪ The school district has made essential information available. Initially, public awareness and information about the work of the Community Project Review Committee during the period January-April was limited. Records of their work, including meeting minutes, documents reviewed, site visits, and presentations by experts, are now available on the district’s website under the Referendum 2019 section.
In summary, both Question 1 and Question 2 of the Referendum are worthy of support. Beaufort County School District’s bond ratings are excellent and among the best in South Carolina. Taxpayers will benefit in allowing the district to take advantage of present lower interest rates as a result of the district’s high bond rating.
The increase in taxes would be modest. Also, the items in Question 2 will continue to be needed and will be more expensive in the future.