By Bill Rauch
The Beaufort County School District Board is delusional if they think the voters are going to vote to give them more money to build more schools in Bluffton while the FBI — the FBI! — is, according to school board members, investigating possible criminal wrongdoing in the bidding processes of the last two schools they built in Bluffton.
It would be foolish for them to continue to go forward with their current plan to put their $76 million measure before the voters on April 21.
The voters have voted against them once already (2016) and voting NO to schools is not a habit that it is in the interests of the county’s children for the voters to get into.
Admittedly the clock is ticking against the district in two ways. The median age of the Beaufort County voter increases each year, and the number of children who attend school in the Bluffton area increases relentlessly as well.
But the political reality is that to woo the necessary votes the School District’s house must first be put into order.
It doesn’t help that the superintendent is a controversial figure, and not because of his progressivism in matters of education. No. Unfortunately for the county’s children who had nothing to do with it, Superintendent Moss regrettably inappropriately put his wife on the district’s payroll a few years ago, and regrettably the school board chose to wink at his transgression.
The voters haven’t winked back.
The implication of The Island Packet reports that have appeared so far regarding the current FBI inquiry is that the superintendent is suspected of having been up to his old tricks when he was overseeing the building of May River High School and River Ridge Academy: favoring family and friends over arms-length, on-the-merits stewardship.
Maybe he was. Maybe he wasn’t. Only time and the results of the investigation will tell.
The voters who are also the taxpayers will be interested to know.
All that means the board must wait until the investigation has been concluded, the chips have fallen where they may, and the dust has settled on the whole FBI affair before they press ahead with another ask.
What about putting the school bond measure off until the November elections?
Unfortunately for the district, for two reasons that alternative is probably not a winner either. It is unlikely that nine months from now the investigation will be concluded, and that whatever post-investigation steps should have been taken will have been taken, and that then enough time will have passed for the wounds to have healed.
Unlikely, but not impossible.
But, secondly and of equal importance, in November the schools initiative would be sharing the ballot with two more widely popular measures: another bond issue for Rural and Critical Lands and a proposed penny sales tax for countywide transportation needs.
Both measures, it seems today, would enjoy more widely-based support than the School Board’s need to build more schools in the Bluffton area. That means, given the unlikeliness of the voters voting YES three times in a day to tax themselves, someone’s going down. And from the looks of things today, that someone would probably be the new Bluffton schools.
The school district’s best bet on behalf of the children they serve is to stick with the special election strategy: pulling this one now, and putting it back on the ballot when the FBI-raised questions have been answered.
Bill Rauch was the mayor of Beaufort from 1999-2008. Email Bill at TheRauchReport@gmail.com.