Before they ask voters next November to approve an extension of the 1 percent sales tax, Charleston County School Board members want to show that their ongoing capital building program is working well.
The board unanimously authorized on Monday night its staff to get three proposals for an audit of its 2011-2016 building program that's funded by the sales tax. They also will ask an attorney whether they can use sales tax proceeds to cover the cost of the audit, but no cost estimate for an audit was provided.
The request for the audit came from the district's Citizens Oversight Steering Committee, which is made of residents from across the county who monitor and provide feedback on the execution of the current building program.
"We want to advocate for the district, and the steering committee can help show that the district has been good stewards of the sales tax funds," said Bret Johnson, chief financial officer of Roper St. Francis Healthcare who volunteers as chairman of the steering committee.
Two other significant items came before the board on Monday: the expansion of Orange Grove Elementary Charter into middle grades as well as the expansion and extension of the Noisette Community Redevelopment tax increment financing district.
After a brief discussion, the board unanimously agreed to allow Orange Grove to add grades six through eight. Sixth grade is slated to start in the 2016-17 school year.
The board's decision was met with cheers and applause from a standing-room only crowd of Orange Grove families.
"Every day, I was e-mailing all the board members (in support of this)," said parent Becky Kyzer, who has fourth- and first-graders enrolled in the West Ashley school. "They made us sweat, though."
C.E. Williams Middle aside, Kyzer described the community's middle schools as "horrible," and she said this change would be good for families.
On the TIF district, the board agreed 4-3 to pass it, which means that until 2028, it will give up all but 12.5 percent of future tax revenue on 693 acres in North Charleston. Those who voted against the majority were Michael Miller, Chris Collins and Elizabeth Moffly.
On the audit of building projects covered by sales tax, district staff will return to the board with a proposed audit contract for its consideration. The audit would review whether the district spent the money in the way it proposed to taxpayers, and it would evaluate whether the district followed policies and internal controls for the disbursement of public money.
Johnson said he expects a clean opinion without any major findings. The citizens committee has asked probing questions, and district staff have responded by answering all questions and providing any information requested, he said.
The sales tax that voters approved in fall of 2010 will produce an estimated $450 million by the time it expires in 2016. State law prohibits the district from going to voters to extend the tax before November 2016, and district officials say that's too long to wait and would cause a gap between projects and delay much-needed construction.
Mike Bobby, the district's chief of finance and operations, said they've talked with members of the county legislative delegation about changing state law to allow a referendum to be on voters' ballots in 2014, and he's hopeful they will act expeditiously.
"Time is of the essence," he said.
Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or 843-937-5546.