By Amy Rigard
The Beaufort County School District’s board of education voted Dec. 12 to hold a countywide bond referendum on April 21 to raise not more than $76 million.
The money would be used to to address the overcrowding caused by the booming student population, as well as aging facilities, mostly in the southern part of Beaufort County.
If county voters approve the referendum, general obligation bonds not to exceed $76 million would be used to build additional classrooms at River Ridge Academy and May River High School; to construct a new school in Bluffton; and new Career and Technical Education (CATE) buildings at Beaufort, Bluffton and Hilton Head Island high schools. Battery Creek and May River high schools already have CATE facilities.
The decision to hold the special election split the board 6-5. The majority favors immediate action to begin construction, and the minority raised concerns over the higher cost and the fairness of scheduling a vote outside the general November election cycle. Traditionally, there is very low voter turnout on a Saturday.
Board members Mary Cordray, Earl Campbell, Geri Kinton, Cynthia Gregory, Bill Payne and Evva Anderson voted for the referendum proposed by Superintendent Jeff Moss.
The minority bloc of John Dowling, David Striebinger, Joseph Dunkle, Christina Gwozdz and JoAnn Orischak wanted more time to further develop the referendum and favor buying portable classrooms to help alleviate the overcrowding problem while the plans on exactly how the taxpayers’ money would be spent are finalized.
Those who voted against the referendum noted that this new motion was made quickly, and the accompanying projects list wasn’t introduced before the Dec. 12 meeting.
Dunkle, who voted against the referendum, noted that of the five projects proposed to receive funding, only two were previously discussed, and no specific and concrete plans for the other three currently exist.
He said the projects have unknown locations, an unknown timeframe for completion and no identified funding source since no millage exists to fund the projects.
“It’s unfortunate this happened the way it did because I think if more time and thought had been given, there could have been buy-in from many of the board members,” said Dunkle. “It was very game, set, match, and they just wanted to push it through.”
Those who voted in favor of holding the referendum in April argued that the county needs to address overcrowding issues immediately.