A divided Charleston County School Board made a last minute change Thursday night to add a new high school in McClellanville to the list of school construction projects tied to a referendum to extend a 1 percent sales tax.
Five of the nine member board including Tom Ducker, Craig Ascue, Michael Miller, Elizabeth Moffly and Rev. Chris Collins called for the special meeting less than 24 hours before the deadline to file the referendum with the Charleston County Board of Elections.
Those five members all voted in favor of adding a new Lincoln High School to the list. The remaining board members voted against it. School board member Chris Fraser was absent.
"I think the board has done what it said it would do," Ascue said, referring to a vote earlier this year where the school board agreed to replace Lincoln Middle-High School.
The board originally approved a list of 35 projects totaling $503 million at a meeting on July 28 that included several projects in McClellanville. That list allocated funding to renovate St. James-Santee Elementary to add middle school grades, improvements for career and technology education and design plans for a renovation of the old McClellanville Middle School as a possible site for Lincoln High School.
The board's vote Thursday eliminated the design plans for McClellanville Middle as well as funding for the career and technology improvements. Instead the list will include plans to design and build a new Lincoln High at a site to be determined. The renovation at St. James-Santee remains on the list.
Charleston County voters approved a 1 percent sales tax in 2010 that is set to expire in 2016. If voters approve the tax again it will be extended through 2022. The district is estimating that a six-year extension of the tax would generate between $540 million and $640 million, of which most would go toward major capital projects. The rest of the funds would be used for maintaining school buildings and technology.
Michael Bobby, the school district's chief financial officer, estimated adding a new building for Lincoln High could increase the total project list amount by $25 million to $35 million. The district has crafted a list of projects that will likely exceed the revenue collected but Bobby said projects that are not part of the referendum cannot be funded through the sales tax.
"We want to make sure we have projects in the pipeline in case collections are better than projected," he said.
The board has not yet voted on the order in which the projects would be built.
Lincoln-Middle High School, which served grades 7-12 last school year, had an enrollment of around 150 students. Thomas Colleton, chairman of the constituent school board for McClellanville, said on Wednesday the school is adding sixth grade starting next week and has an anticipated enrollment of 171 students.
The board's vote follows a community meeting in McClellanville Tuesday where residents said they wanted a new high school.
"It's overdue," said Awendaw Mayor Miriam Green who attended the school board meeting Thursday.
Green said the plan to renovate McClellanville Middle was not "accommodating to the community," saying they would rather have flexibility in choosing the site of the high school. She hopes that having a new facility in a good location will draw students back to the school and increase enrollment.
"They want a better education in that community," said board member Tom Ducker. "I think we owe it to them to give them the opportunity to start that in a new facility."
School Board Chairwoman Cindy Bohn Coats, who voted against the change, was disappointed with the last minute change.
"Our constituents expected us to have done our work before we took the vote on July 28," she said.
While Coats agrees students deserve a better facility than the current Lincoln High, she said building a new school doesn't guarantee students will get a better education.
"Building a new high school doesn't create the same 22 career clusters at Wando," she said. "It doesn't create the extracurricular activities, the clubs or the wide variety of (advanced placement) courses."
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