Berkeley asks voters for $198 million for schools
The Berkeley County School Board decided Tuesday to let the voters decide Nov. 6 whether to spend $198 million on school projects, even though one board member called the effort an “uphill battle.”
The board passed a resolution 7-0 to put a referendum to voters asking for general obligation bonds to build five new schools and renovate several others.
Board member Shannon Lee was absent, and Donna Marino abstained. After the meeting, Marino said she had no comment on why she abstained.
The public campaign will kick off Sept. 5.
District Deputy Superintendent Archie Franchini said community support for the effort is strong, with the project backed by major corporations such as Santee Cooper and MeadWestvaco; the Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester chambers of commerce; and the mayors of Goose Creek, Hanahan and Moncks Corner.
But board member Phillip Obie said the district faces an “uphill battle” in getting the referendum passed. A June phone poll of 400 voters in the county by the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors showed that only about 32 percent approve of the project.
“I’ve got a lot of concerns,” he said. “If we want to do this and overcome this major hurdle, then we’ve got to get the public out there and get them informed on this. Why are we waiting so long to get the message out there?”
Amy Kovach, district director of communications and community relations, said many folks have been working on the effort behind the scenes for months.
If passed, the referendum would mean a $40 tax increase on a $100,000 home starting in 2014, and an additional $40 starting in 2017, based on the county’s current tax base. It would go back down to $40 in 2023 and phase out by 2036.
The district, which has nearly 30,000 students, expects about 800 new students this year, and predictions are for more than 18,000 new students by 2029-30.
Currently, 13 schools are over capacity.
Included in the project are a new high school and middle school in the Daniel Island/Cainhoy area and new elementary schools in the Sheep Island Road, Tanner Plantation and Fox Bank Plantation areas.
It also includes major renovations for Marrington Middle School of the Arts, and Cross, Goose Creek, Stratford and Timberland high schools and minor renovations or improvements at 24 other schools.
Obie said he believes Goose Creek High School, which needs about $26 million in additions and renovations, has the most to lose if the referendum fails.
“If it doesn’t pass, what moneys are we going to use to bring Goose Creek High School … up to the standards it should be at?” he asked.
Superintendent Rodney Thompson agreed that the school is in dire need, but added that all the projects “are needed greatly in Berkeley County, and the citizens need to step up and vote for this if they feel compelled. We are asking to let the voters decide if it’s a priority for them because we have shown that it’s a priority for us.”
Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or www.facebook.com/brindge.