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What a way to go into the holidays!

November 16, 2007

BY Lou Neiger, CLU

The $256 million school bond tax for Lexington 5 schools was defeated, what a way to go into the holidays.

 

Voters in Lexington 5 were successful in defeating the extravagant, almost half a billion dollar (including interest) facilities plan put forth by District 5. Voters are hoping the school will become more responsive to the community needs rather than JUST making plans to expand at the whims of builders & developers. They fully expect to see the District go for another referendum next year or even worse… use 8% loophole (instead of maintaining existing schools) to build new schools – in sparsely populated areas  – to avoid a public vote.  They hope that the latter will not occur.

Some of the things the Lexington school district has done, which in my mind removes the public trust of our school administers who try to push through the school boards and public referendums without totally disclosing what they are doing, are as follows:

 

· The school board didn’t even see the facilities plans until 11 days before their August vote to hold the referendum;

·They bought portable after portable (with taxpayers money) and placed them at schools with declining enrollment to give the appearance of overcrowding.   (Irmo dropped 299 students yet received 17 brand new portables).

· They used public resources ($30,000 plus expenses) to hire a political consultant whose contract allowed them to target the groups most likely to vote in favor of the bond, instead of educating all voters. 

· They used their publicly funded emergency notification system (phone system) to invite certain groups to referendum “informational” meetings (folks without children “Taxpayers” in the District 5 schools did not get that call).

· They used their widely distributed school email system and put flyers in children’s book bags to dispense get-out-the-vote correspondence.

· They refused to admit the district grew by only 24 students from last year to this year, then removed important enrollment data from their website so that voters could not compare that information for themselves.

· They baited voters with projects for their own schools in hopes to gain enough votes to build 3 new schools.  (They have been attempting to form a fourth high school attendance area with the 3 new schools in the most rural part of district 5 since 2001 when they made an offer to buy a 240-acre tract in partnership with the Mungo Co.).  What are they doing in the land business with the Mungo Co.?

·They failed to tell voters that using the maximum millage rate allowed to be charged by law was not adequate to pay to operate the proposed new schools. Approval of the referendum would result in the largest tax increase in the history of District 5 schools General fund.

·They threw in projects to benefit certain schools at the 11th hour (well after the public was shown original plans) – like the Chapin area’s multi-million dollar fine arts center and sports complex – which looked like an effort to “buy” votes;

·They recently approved a policy to utilize only 75% of middle and high school capacity.   Instead of using the 25% (classrooms) held empty for teacher planning, which was to be used for class rooms- whether used or not, they purchased portables – again giving the appearance of overcrowding;

 · They released the architectural firm who was to renovate the 3 existing high     schools after its renderings of renovations had been presented to the public, then contracted with another firm who came up with a new set of designs for schools – designs that were never publicly vetted.

 · They never justified how building 3 new schools in Chapin’s rural Spring Hill community would benefit education of the children and their communities.   It would have benefited builders and developers.

 · They failed to tell voters that plans presented were purely schematic and subject to change after the $256,500,000 was in their hands.

· The “District 5 First” vote yes ballot measure committee was advised by the same political consultant firm hired by District 5 to target groups most likely to vote in favor of the referendum.  Eighty-eight percent of the funds contributed to the “District 5 First” group came from builders and developers.

  Lexington 5 Public school district would be wise to work with and spend MORE time in educating children. Lexington 5 is one of the better schools but they and the rest of South Carolina public schools are still not competing in the global education arena.
It appears that the Lexington 5 school system is continuing to put a plan together with developers and builders to create an expansion of the schools with out the input of all the concerned citizens and local governments.  It is like the rest of the public schools systems, it seems the attitude is ‘we are going to go forward no matter what the concerns are’.  The public school must come back to realize they work for all the citizens who pay their check not developers. I truly believe concerned citizens, local mayors and county council members with the schools should develop a over all plan of an expansion, if needed for growth at a modest level and not allow developers and schools be the driving force to make it like the congested Harbison area.

 

Lou Neiger has worked in the Insurance Planning field since 1981 and earned his CLU designation from the American College in Bryn Mawr, Pa.   Lou has been published in several papers as a guest columnist in South Carolina. 

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One Comment leave one →
  1. November 17, 2007 9:47 PM

    Now, the big question is how to delinate the real needs and costs of District 5 schools so a successful ’08 bond referendum can be put forth.
    The Board and Administration have two possible approaches. The first is the easy way. Just take the failed bond referendum and scale it back to a financial level that the public “might buy”. This is a total abrogation of District responsibility and will only result in a smaller list of overpriced facilities.
    The second approach requires real District intestinal fortitude and courage. Specifically, the Board and Administration needs to hold several totally open, two way communication meetings so that the public can voice exactly what they didn’t like about the ’07 school bond referendum. By so doing, the District can identify exactly what should NOT be in an ’08 bond referendum. By developing a plan that excludes the negatives of the ’07 plan, a positive ’08 plan will become obvious.
    The ’07 bond referendum had two fatal flaws. The first was the process used to define the basic needs and plan. Secondly, was the way in which the cost structure was developed. Hopefully, these two flaws will be addressed and precluded from any ’08 bond referendum.
    Don Carlson

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