The Charleston County School Board has some explaining to do.
In November, voters will be asked to approve a sales tax increase of a half-cent on the dollar to build a bunch of new schools.
Now, the ballot will include a list of the projects - some 30 new schools, renovations and new stadiums.
But it's not going to say what order they will build these things.
And that's a problem.
The school board approved its project list in July, but less than two weeks ago - with less than 24 hour's notice, and even less time to get it on the ballot - they amended the list to include a new Lincoln High for McClellanville.
Since then, well, a fairly safe bet has become a shaky proposition. Business types are nervous and Mount Pleasant residents, who put together a committee of citizens to outline their needs, are worried about their new high school.
If McClellanville, with less than 150 students, gets a new high school before the fourth-largest city in the state (which currently only has one), well, they might not support the referendum.
And then, no one will get anything.
So the school board needs to get its priorities in order - in more ways than one.
Sooner, not later
On Monday, the school board will talk about a priority list, but there's no vote scheduled - despite board member Todd Garrett's pleas.
"I want us to vote on it, we don't need any time for more maneuvering," Garrett says.
Garrett was one of four votes against a new Lincoln. He says it doesn't make sense to build a $30 million-$40 million high school for 107 students.
The board's decision to add the project at the last minute, he says, calls into question the district's ability to wisely spend a half-billion dollars.
"Yes, we need to listen to the community, but we also need to use good judgment," Garrett says.
Board member Michael Miller, who supported the new Lincoln, also says there must be a priority list. A past board got a sales tax referendum passed without revealing the order of the building projects, and a lot of folks ended up disgruntled when their school fell to the bottom of the list.
Miller believes the priority list should reflect both overcrowding (Mount Pleasant schools) and condition. And Lincoln fits the condition bill.
"There is a balanced way to do it," Miller says. "If you tell us growth is important, that will be at the top. But condition is also important. It's about equity."
McClellanville's high school took worse damage from Hugo than downtown schools, yet 25 years later it's still in use. So he's got a point.
Need a Pleasant vote
Charleston County has a huge school district. With more than 80 schools, it's the biggest in the state.
There are a lot of needs. You have kids in North Charleston attending class in buildings that date back to the Cold War, and in Mount Pleasant you have some elementary schoolers spending their days in "cabanas" - the district's laughably politically correct name for trailers.
The district desperately needs that sales tax referendum to pass. That allows the board to avoid raising property taxes, and by some estimates would allow our wonderful tourists to pay up to 40 percent of the cost.
The Chamber of Commerce is expected to tell the board on Monday that the priority list is critical. Mount Pleasant has to be on board, or the referendum is not likely to pass.
"I still think the school board will take care of Mount Pleasant," says town Councilman Elton Carrier. "We have gotten a lot of stuff but we still have a lot of needs."
Yeah, like a new high school. Most cities that size in this state have three or four.
As Garrett says, Mount Pleasant will get a new high school, referendum or not. But without the sales tax, it might require a property tax hike. And a property tax increase would not bring in nearly the money a sales tax would generate. Then the district would do six or seven new projects in the next decade, not 30.
That is not a winning formula for anyone.
Most board members say they agree the projects need to be ranked, but sometimes strange things happen at 75 Calhoun.
This shouldn't be one of those times. The board needs to show some transparency, set its building priority order and put a new Mount Pleasant high at the top of the list.
And if they are going to take condition into account, Lincoln will no doubt rise to the first phase of building.
Bottom line, Mount Pleasant votes - and their reasonable and understandable requests should not be ignored.
Because dissing Mount Pleasant doesn't do anything but hurt the rest of the district.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org
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