BEAUFORT, S.C. (WSAV) – For the third time in five years, a school bond referendum will be on the ballot in Beaufort County.
It is the largest one ever.
Voters will decide on $344 million dedicated to improvements in security, athletic fields and facilities — and most importantly for many — expansions at May River High School and River Ridge Academy in Bluffton and a new building for Robert Smalls International Academy.
The potential cost? Extra taxes for you.
This is the third time in five years school officials are asking for voters to approve their plan. the past two failed by a large number.
This time a Citizens Committee took part in fashioning what would become the proposal on the ballot.
Joan Heyward and Richard Bisi both took part in that committee.
Heyward believes the referendum is just what the County needs. Bisi has questions and issues with the latest version.
“The committee visited schools, our eyes were opened what we found was deplorable in some cases and in other cases, like in Bluffton, it was deplorable because of classroom space,” said Heyward. “We were presented by professional ideas and plans on how to improve those conditions.”
“I personally was at every school board meeting,” said Bisi, co-founder of CARE, Citizens Advocating Responsible Education. “They never discussed what do we do with these schools North of the Broad where enrollment is declining, and declining rapidly.”
“We have one high school, Battery Creek High School which is half empty, 49% capacity yet they want to spend $56 million at Battery Creek,” he added. “So the individual projects were never vetted by the school board.”
“In 11 years since the last successful bond referendum our school population has increased by 13% to 23,000 and we need space in this area for our children to be educated,” said Heyward. “Every single school will have its security either put in place or updated because of the importance of protecting our children.”
“The school board back in May voted 10-1 to reduce the operating budget by $5 million. Unfortunately, when the final vote came they voted to cut the budget not by $5 million but by $3000,” explains Bisi. “We believe they just lacked the courage or the will to do what they said they were going to do. We really question the financial oversight they would have over a $345 million spending program.”
“The last two major construction projects, which happen to be May River High and River Ridge, happen to be subject of a continued FBI investigation, which unfortunately has not been completed yet,” said Bisi.
“If it doesn’t pass I have not a clue what will happen because there is no money to fulfill those needs and the needs aren’t going away,” said Heyward. “Our schools are in dire need of help. 11 years and 13% growth is enough to say its time for the community to step up to the plate and approve this referendum.”
Bisi says CARE does believe improvements are needed in schools, but also says current Beaufort County Schools Superintendent Frank Rodriguez should have a chance to put his projects on the table. That could be as soon as next year.
If you would like to see how the Referendum tax might affect you this is a tax calculator to help figure it out. https://www.beaufortschools.net/departments/communications/april_21_bond_referendum/tax_calculators
When you go to the voting booth there will be two school referendum questions on the ballot, the first one, for $344 million has to pass for both to go into effect.