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Editorial: Extend 1% sales tax for Charleston County schools building

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Vanessa Brown (copy)

Construction crews work earlier this year on a new career and technology center for high school students in North Charleston. The building, which opened recently, was made possible by previous sales tax referendums. Brad Nettles/Staff

Charleston County voters wisely decided in 2010 and 2014 to approve — and then extend — a 1% sales tax to raise money to build new public schools and improve existing ones. Since then, dozens of schools have transitioned from an embarrassing state to points of community pride. But there's still more to be done.

That's why we urge county voters to extend the tax yet again, from 2022 to 2028, which would raise $708 million more. School officials have proven to be good stewards of this money, and they have provided a list of specific projects, including 16 major ones, that they would tackle with the additional dollars. This level of transparency and accountability should reassure voters who rightfully want to know what they're getting for their money. 

The Charleston County School District completed 16 building projects during the past five years to increase the number of available student seats, but 12 of its roughly 80 schools still operated over capacity last year.

The School Board also approved "mission critical" items, including new capital projects such as a new Lambs Elementary School/Early Education Center in North Charleston, a new Ladson Elementary School and a new elementary school on Johns Island.

Other major projects would include a James B. Edwards Elementary School in Mount Pleasant and a new Hursey Montessori school in North Charleston. Voters who want more details can check out the district's Phase V Capital Programs Master Plan on the district's website.

The sales tax extension isn't needed solely to keep up with growth, which is actually leveling off, but also to renovate school buildings, some of which are more than 50 years old. About $270 million, or $45 million a year, would go toward major maintenance work such as new roofs, HVAC systems and floors.

“It’s not a new tax and it’s just an extension that uses our tourist dollars to help support local schools," board member Todd Garrett told The Post and Courier's Jenna Schiferl. "It’s building a handful of needed buildings in each section of the district, so Mount Pleasant, North Charleston, downtown, West Ashley and Johns Island, and it allows us to continue to build and maintain our buildings without adding debt.”

The district has made enormous strides since a 1997 Post and Courier investigation exposed the grim, substandard conditions of many district schools.

School construction and renovation work kicked into a higher gear after the first 2010 sales tax, and since then the district has had a good track record delivering construction projects on time, within budget and with strong community input. We encourage voters to let this necessary work continue by approving an extension of the sale tax on Nov. 3.

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