It's hard to begrudge McClellanville a new high school.
Lincoln High is 60 years old. It's out of date, decrepit and literally has been underwater.
That was back in 1989, during Hugo, when some genius decided to make it a hurricane shelter. That night, a lot of people stood on Lincoln's cafeteria tables, holding their children above their heads, as the water rose higher and higher on their chests.
The building probably still gives some people nightmares.
As Charleston County School Board member Tom Ducker says, "In a rural community, the school is the glue that holds the community together."
It is a nice sentiment and, in many cases, it's very true.
So in a hastily called meeting, 18 hours before the deadline to set the November ballot, the school board voted Thursday to amend its proposed one percent sales tax bond referendum project list to include a new Lincoln.
They committed between $25 million and $40 million to a school that will serve about 150 students.
And they opened a whole can of worms that could cost Mount Pleasant a second high school, and taxpayers a big ol' lawsuit or two down the road.
The list of projects that would be funded by this sales tax was set last month.
It included money to expanded McClellanville's St. James-Santee Elementary to accommodate middle schoolers. It wasn't much of a stretch - the school only has about 350 students now.
It also included money to convert the empty, unused McClellanville Middle to a new Lincoln High.
But the community met earlier this week and said that wasn't good enough, that they deserved a new high school like everyone else. As some of them said at Thursday's meeting, this new school would help them "move forward."
Board Chairwoman Cindy Bohn Coats, who was against this, said the board "didn't do anything except say 'Used isn't good enough.' "
She said the board did nothing to improve education in McClellanville, they only decided to use new bricks instead of old ones.
And conceded that the board didn't do its job when it set the project list.
The biggest problem here is that the board made a major policy decision with only 24 hours of notice, not enough time to hear from the community. Hey - only three board members were actually there. Five literally had to phone in their votes.
A board that normally takes five hours to choose which potato chips they serve in schools spent roughly $1 million a minute. And left the district with at least two major headaches.
One, how do they explain this to Sullivan's Island? A few years back, they told Sullivan's that the district didn't build schools for less than 500 students and promptly built a school on the island larger than some residents wanted.
And that was an elementary school. For high schools, the district's target is at least 1,200 students. Ten times Lincoln's size.
And secondly, what is Edisto Island supposed to think? There is roughly the same number of students on that island, yet from 7th grade on, all Edisto students are bussed 20 miles away to Hollywood.
Which is almost exactly how far McClellanville is from Mount Pleasant.
When Edisto residents demand their equal treatment, the district shouldn't bother to contest the lawsuit. Just build them a school.
Will there be fallout?
The sales tax increase for these school building projects, if approved, would run from January 2017 until 2023.
Most conservative estimates say the district would see about $420 million in the gloomiest economy. The project list, before Lincoln High (at an undetermined cost) was added, totaled $501 million.
Some district officials fear that this kind of on-the-fly extra spending is going to call the whole referendum into question. Some conservative taxpayers may see Thursday's action and think: if this is how easily they spend money, perhaps I should vote "No."
Couldn't blame them. In fact, two hours after the vote, Mount Pleasant residents were on Facebook, proclaiming that if their high school wasn't ahead of Lincoln's on the priority list, they would actively campaign against the referendum.
And that would set the district back years in its building needs, cost Mount Pleasant a second high school, West Ashley a new C.E. Williams Middle and North Charleston a new Burns Elementary. Among many other things.
Lincoln High supporters say that's not going to happen, that people will vote on the need for schools in their areas. They'd better hope so.
A majority of the school board showed its support for community schools Thursday, a noble but expensive gesture.
Maybe McClellanville does deserve a new high school, despite its enrollment, for the community's sake. It's a good and worthwhile debate to have.
But not like this.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org
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