By MIKE McCOMBS
When Beaufort County voters go to the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 5 – I say when hopefully, rather than if – they will be presented with two questions, the second dependent on the approval of the first.
These are the Beaufort County School District’s bond referendum questions. The bond would give the school district the authority to borrow money for capitol projects, including but not limited to building, expanding and renovating schools.
The first question asks for the authority to borrow $290 million for district-wide safety and security upgrades, technology infrastructure upgrades district-wide, classroom additions at River Ridge Academy and May River High School, a replacement building at Robert Smalls International Academy, renovations at Beaufort Elementary and renovations and additions at Hilton Head Island Middle School and Battery Creek High School.
The second question, which can only be approved should the first pass, asks for the school district’s authority to borrow roughly $54 million in career and technology expansions at Battery Creek and May River, design work for renovations at Hilton Head Island High, athletic facility improvements across district high schools and middle schools and playground improvements at early childhood centers, elementary and elementary schools.
Getting to the point, it is in the best interest of Beaufort County if voters choose to answer yes on Tuesday.
Whether citizens have children in the Beaufort County School District or not, much like a strong infrastructure, they benefit from a strong school district.
One of the variables that determines property values is the quality of the local school district.
It has been 11 years since the county passed a school bond referendum. In that time, the district has grown by 15 percent and continues to grow at a high rate.
School overcrowding is an issue, and allowed to continue and worsen, could be detrimental to the ability of some of the county’s children to learn. And security concerns simply must be addressed.
Allowing technology to lapse puts all of our children behind in a world increasingly driven by technology.
Quite frankly, a community whose children are happy, safe and well-educated is simply a better community that a community where they are not.
Despite any perception to the contrary, the district has actually won awards for its financial reporting and has one of the highest credit bond ratings from Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s among S.C. school districts.
And if the leadership of the school district is an issue for voters, six of the 11 school board members and the superintendent have changed since the last referendum failed in 2018.
This referendum doesn’t address teacher salaries, but that’s simply because referendum funds are restricted to capitol projects. Fair wages for teachers is a fight that should continue separate of this vote.
Some voters won’t vote for a bond referendum, ever. Any increase in taxes is considered toxic.
But if there are questions about the popularity of this particular bond referendum, both the county’s Republican and Democratic parties are in favor of a “Yes” vote, not to mention numerous non-partisan voter groups like the county’s League of Women Voters.
It’s been 11 years. It’s time to address the issues in front of us.
There are a few days before the vote. You don’t have to take my word for it. I’m simply asking you to educate yourself.
Talk to friends.
Talk to local teachers.
Better yet, go to the Beaufort County School District’s website. The district staff has done a wonderful job of breaking down what the bond referendum does, what projects are being funded and why they are needed.
And the BCSD has a page dedicated to answering the most common questions relating to the referendum.
Read it for yourself.
Then go vote. And do what’s best for the people of Beaufort County.
Mike McCombs is the editor of The Island News. Once upon a time, he went to college to be a teacher.