Voters in Berkeley and Dorchester counties delivered a message Tuesday at the polls: We want more and better schools, and we are willing to pay for them.
It was a message of civic responsibility. One of governmentís most basic roles is to educate its citizens.
It was also a message of economic wisdom. For students, a better education ultimately means better jobs.
And a well-educated workforce is a lure for businesses and industry as they consider expanding, relocating or starting up. Officials of both Berkeley and Dorchester 2 school districts presented compelling cases. Population is growing dramatically in both counties ó due in part to the popularity of the public schools there. The buildings simply cannot accommodate the growth. Classes are being taught in trailers and tiny rooms intended to be teacher workrooms.
Safety has become a concern in both Berkeley and Dorchester counties. School officials can monitor who enters school buildings and where they go. But it is much more difficult to monitor who enters the school yard. Often children have to walk outside from trailers to get to a restroom.
Voters were convinced that if they wanted public schools to continue their successes and make improvements, and if they wanted school children to be safe, they needed to pass the referendums.
There were opponents, particularly in Berkeley County where some took issue with how the campaign to promote the referendum was handled and how population numbers were computed. But you donít have to drive far in Berkeley County to come across new houses being built. And a decisive majority of voters apparently recognized the self-evident argument for the bond referendums: more houses likely mean more students and more burdens on public schools.
Both districts were also able to demonstrate that they have spent tax money judiciously, even searching for innovative ways to come up with funds to build new schools. They were asking for the tax increase only as a last resort.
In Dorchester 2, the price tag is $179.9 million to build four schools and renovate 10. Taxes on a $150,000 house will rise by about $102 a year.
For Berkeley County, the $198 million referendum will build five schools and renovate 29. The additional cost for the owner of a $150,000 house will be $60 for three years; then $120 until 2021; then $60 for the last three years.
Clearly, voters in Berkeley County and Dorchester District 2 value their public schools and see them as a benchmark of the quality of their communities. The vote was 60 percent to 40 percent in Dorchester 2, and 58 to 42 percent in Berkeley County.
South Carolina has learned the hard way the high cost of neglecting public education. We continue to score near the bottom nationally, and our economy reflects that unfortunate fact.
It is encouraging that local voters arenít willing to settle for their schools to be just adequate. They want them to be places where students can learn the skills they need to be productive citizens, but also where they can be prepared to compete in a high-tech, competitive world. And they are willing to pay for them.