Yes to Berkeley County School referendum
The numbers arenít adding up in the Berkeley County School District, and the problem has nothing to do with studentsí math scores. The problem is a soaring number of students in a limited number of schools ó a $198 million problem by the districtís estimation.
If voters approve a school improvement referendum for that amount, Berkeley County will get five new schools; 29 other schools will undergo renovations.
New schools will also reduce the distance and time on school buses for students. They now travel as much as an hour twice a day. A new high school and middle school planned for Cainhoy and Daniel Island would help that situation.
Boeing, Google and other new businesses are bringing people to the area, and that has added to the student population. Itís clear that the district needs space. In 2011, student population grew by 757 and this year, 954.
At present, 13 of the districtís 41 schools are operating beyond their capacity, and two more will be over capacity by the end of the year.
Overcrowded schools are less comfortable: Students at Stratford High School often sit on the floor in halls to eat their lunch.
They are less efficient: At Goose Creek High School, some teachers without permanent classrooms have to put all their instructional materials on a cart and push it from room to room.
They are less safe: The district is relying more and more on trailers for class space, where it is more difficult to secure expensive computers and to prevent unwanted visitors.
And no one believes the population will stop growing any time soon. Indeed, projections are that, between 2010 and 2030, the student population will grow by 18,000. Itís better to start addressing the growth now than to wait until there is a crisis.
Opponents of the referendum contend that the district doesnít make the best use of what space it has. For example, the new Cane Bay Middle School has a capacity of 900 students, but only 415 attending.
The reason is that eighth graders were given the choice to finish middle school with their friends in the school they had been attending. Next year, the numbers will be higher. And as the area grows, the student population will be a good fit.
In general, students are overflowing classrooms, while the ratio of teacher-to-students has had to shrink. More are being sent to trailers ó hardly optimal classroom space.
The Berkeley County School District is promising to be a careful steward of tax dollars. For example, it plans to use bulk purchases to lower costs. And some purchases like kitchen equipment for schools will be deferred until they are needed, and bought through the districtís normal channels, not with bond money.
The referendum has wide support from community and political leaders, the Chamber of Commerce, major businesses and school groups.
It has detractors as well, but even they have conceded that new schools are needed, and they havenít offered a viable solution for meeting those needs. Some recommended busing children from high-density areas to more rural schools where there is space. Itís an idea parents are sure to hate.
Nobody likes a tax increase. But people donít want their school-aged children to be put at risk and their educations to be compromised.
And business owners thinking of locating in the area (and providing new jobs) weigh the public schools in their decision. A district that doesnít take care of its schools is a district that gets a bad grade.
The projected tax increase isnít small, but the cost of not taking care of schools is far greater. At present, the owner of a $100,000 house pays $220 for school taxes. If the referendum passes the bill would go up $40 in 2014, up another $40 in 2017 and down $40 in 2023. In 2028, it would disappear.
Berkeley County is large and its population is booming. Schools that already are overcrowded will be in real trouble without an infusion of money for a building/repair program.
A vote for the school referendum is an investment in the community. And thatís a good idea.