I attended, along with hundreds of my neighbors, a recent meeting to discuss and respond to Berkeley County School District Superintendent Rodney Thompson’s plans for schools on or off Daniel Island. I don’t think anyone in that room left satisfied, which means he could use a little advice.
Here’s my advice to you, Dr. Thompson.
1) Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish. There was good indication that land on Clements Ferry for a middle school could be free or cheap. You admitted that your school construction experience in Berkeley County has involved only free land. Money for land has been budgeted within the $100 million allocation for the Daniel Island/Cainhoy area.
The land under the new high school could cost a lot less than budgeted (maybe nothing), and you said you could move money from one project to another. Residents of Daniel Island paid, and continue to pay, a premium to live here, and the K-8 configuration is a primary reason for this. You can reciprocate by paying a premium through the acquisition of land to keep this configuration for decades to come.
2) Process is key. I know your plan is to have a new committee look at all options and roll up their sleeves. That’s great. I am concerned that you expect to condense all your “official” feedback into a six-week period, after 11 months of no activity.
Make sure this committee proportionately represents the local population, which it would not as announced at the meeting. Don’t stick to a six-week deadline, if you notice the residents are still up in arms about the process and lack of information. Join the “Keep K-8 on DI!” Facebook page, so you can view all the well-articulated concerns from residents. Don’t wait for letters to be written to you and the board — go to where the conversation is already happening. You’ll earn more respect for it.
3) Go back to the drawing board — way back to the bond itself. You said your hands are tied by the bond language and that only a middle school can be built with the money. Be a problem solver here and get two or three legal opinions on that “restriction.” Not everyone in the room seemed convinced that one legal opinion should be the only opinion.
What would it take to schedule a follow-up referendum that would allow money to be spent on an elementary school, if that configuration solved the problem at hand? Find out, if you don’t know the answer to that question.
Even if the answer is not a good one for the residents, show us you took extra steps to investigate how flexible you/we can be with the spending of that bond money.
You can bet that local residents are willing to delay the first shovel going into the dirt by a year or more to get this done correctly.
4) Resolve the annexation threat. It was your lack of due diligence on four potential Daniel Island locations, and rumors that you were more seriously considering options on Clements Ferry Road that sparked this threat to annex into Charleston County.
You emphatically stated you would do everything in your power to prevent that from happening. The best thing you can do is to find a solution to keep K-8 on Daniel Island for our current population and the projected growth as well. You alone have the ability to put a stop to the annexation momentum.
I know you have a tough job. But you must give more weight and consideration to the population centers that will be most impacted by your decisions.
To date, the Daniel Island community is saying loud and clear that you have not listened to us properly and you have not considered our needs in proportion to our numbers within the impacted area, which include population and dollars. Be humble, not defensive, and fix this.