Berkeley County School District needs six new schools and renovations at four others that could cost taxpayers nearly $215 million.

The school board is laying a foundation for a possible bond referendum in November 2012.

"We have some other needs, but we stopped at $215 million," said Superintendent Rodney Thompson. "Our priority is to educate children, and it's going to get to a point where that is difficult."

There is no estimate yet on how the average homeowner's tax bill would be affected if a bond passed, said district Chief Financial Officer Brantley Thomas.

The building program is needed because many of the schools are near- or over capacity. There are about 30,000 students in the district, including 850 more this year than anticipated.

"The numbers have outpaced the growth in a down economy," said board member Doug Cooper. "We've even outpaced the most aggressive numbers."

Several large developments are under construction or in the planning stages. Among them: Cane Bay, 10,000 houses; the Parks of Berkeley, 13,000 houses; and an as-yet-unnamed neighborhood near Carnes Crossroad, 5,000 houses. Daniel Island and Tanner Plantation are also mid-construction.

Cooper said he thinks support industries for Boeing also will affect the district.

"Those people have to live somewhere," he said. "We don't have the industrial parks ready to go like Charleston County does, but we certainly have the residential communities ready to go."

Thompson stressed that the $215 million estimate is based only on current and previous projects and not formal numbers.

"This is a year out, and we don't know what's going to happen with steel prices and construction prices," he said. "We would need to have more extensive research on the actual costs. This is just our best estimate based on current projects and real estate costs."

The district is looking at a bond referendum to pay for the schools because "the sales tax option is not an option," Thomas said.

Only one entity at a time can have a sales tax referendum in a county, and Berkeley County voters in 2008 passed a seven-year, 1-cent sales tax increase to pay for road improvements, he said.

"The law prohibits a sales tax referendum unless we have some legislative intervention," Thomas said. "I was hoping the sales tax would work because it shares the responsibility of a lot of people to pay the debt, but at this point in time, the only possibility is a bond referendum."

If the district holds a referendum that does not pass, Thompson said it likely will be restricted to building, at most, one new school.

Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or at