School Board to seek legislators' assistance for funding
Aiken County Board of Education members will attend an Aiken County Legislative Delegation meeting on Monday – seeking the next step in their quest to obtain additional funding resources for school construction needs.
They will ask the legislators to promote a bill that would allow the School District to conduct a penny tax referendum.
If it's successful, the county's sales taxes would increase by 1 cent – raising as much as $140 million over seven years. The dilemma is that the School District cannot call for such a referendum on its own.
“The real focus,” said Board member Keith Liner, “is to make sure the legislators understand we would like them to provide the ability to have the voters decide on a penny sales tax.
Levi Green, the Board's vice chairman, said the chairwoman, Rosemary English, will make opening comments to the legislators, followed by Liner. Parents may also provide remarks as well.
Twenty South Carolina school districts were “grandfathered” in previous legislation that no longer exists – giving them the option of calling for a sales tax referendum. Again, the Aiken School District currently does not have that authority. S.C. Rep. Don Wells, R-Aiken, said he would support legislation that would give the School District that capability.
“We don't have to travel far to realize our school buildings are below where they should be,” said Wells. “Once a structure reaches a certain age, the maintenance costs are much higher than more modern schools. I don't seen any problem with giving people the opportunity to choose a penny sales tax up or down.”
S.C. Sen. Tom Young, R-Aiken has been working with School Board members about a proposed bill in the Senate, Liner said.
In 2010, the School Board called for a construction bond referendum that would have raised $236 million through property tax increases. That effort failed dramatically, and the Board has shown no further inclination to try again.
In the nearly four years since then, the School District is using debt service funds for additions to Aiken High School, North Augusta High School and Ridge Spring-Monetta High School. The School Board also plans to build a new Leavelle McCampbell Middle School – replacing the current facility built in 1921. Still, the District has other aging schools, and funds obtained through an additional penny sales tax could begin to address them, Green said.
“The needs are not going away,” he said. “As our schools' conditions worsen, there won't be enough money to do it.”
Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.