Itís a Catch 22. People choose to live in Dorchester County because they like the schools in District 2. But that growth is straining school buildings at the seams.
The districtís elementary schools alone are over capacity by 1,536 students, based on a plan that would limit them to 800 students each. Studies show the district could grow by 1,435 elementary students in the next five years.
Already, 3,500 district students attend classes in trailers. Classes are being taught in workrooms and storage rooms. Vocational and career readiness courses in high schools are especially affected by lack of space.
Beyond its impact on scholastics, the space shortage puts at risk the safety of school children and staff working in too-small places and in trailers that are too easily accessible to people wishing to avoid the scrutiny of the front office.
So while no one wants to pay more taxes, the $179.9 million Dorchester County school referendum deserves voter support. It would provide for three new elementary schools, a new middle school of the arts and renovation of 10 schools.
Adding $102 a year to taxes on a $150,000 house isnít insignificant. People will feel the pinch.
But the pinch could be more like a chokehold if Dorchester 2ís successful schools fail to do their jobs adequately. The countyís economic future is at stake.
Without an educated workforce, Dorchester County will be less appealing to business and industry ó and less likely to attract the good jobs this area needs.
Opposition to the referendum is organized and vocal. Taxpayers note that the district already has $190 million in debt and that the proposed bond would take 20 years to pay off.
Numerous senior citizens without children or grandchildren in local schools donít understand why they should be taxed more for something they donít use.
The answer is that they do enjoy benefits of having an educated citizenry who are productive and independent.
Dorchester County has a mixed record on supporting referendums.
The last successful effort was a $25.5 million referendum in 1995. In 2003 a $98 million referendum failed. And in 2009, school officials shelved a $165 million referendum fearing it wouldnít pass during the recession.
School district officials have demonstrated frugality and resourcefulness in their building program. The district built six new schools using low-interest stimulus bonds with almost no tax impact.
But the school space problems are not going away. The county continues to grow, and schools will get more and more crowded without a program to add schools and redo existing buildings to make them more serviceable.
Voters will also be asked to decide whether the district should receive an additional $7.5 million for an aquatics center, adding another $3 to the taxes on a $150,000 house.
The center would be maintained by the YMCA and used to teach elementary students to swim. While it is not a necessity like the school building proposal, the partnership is a wise one, and the goal of teaching swimming is sensible for a coastal community.
No one likes a tax increase, particularly in a slow economy. But the Summerville areaís prosperity and pride have a lot to do with its schools, ranked among the stateís top 10.
Voters should support the improvement referendum so their schools can continue to thrive.