Through a new initiative, the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring a trip to Columbia County across the Savannah River – with the intent to highlight the need for better investment in Aiken County schools.

The Chamber plans to take about 50 people to Columbia County, “which is so close and is recognized in Money Magazine,” said David Jameson, the Chamber president. “The people that go with us will see real investment in the schools, why it was made and what the outcomes have been since they made the investment.”

The Chamber has invited its own board members, School Board administrators and Board, Aiken City and Aiken County Council members and community residents serving as Chamber Ambassadors.

The new Byrd Elementary School in Graniteville was built five years ago, replacing an aging facility. The Board of Education also is moving forward with a replacement for Leavelle McCampbell Middle School, constructed 93 years ago.

Yet for the long-term, Jameson said, the public has shown a reluctance to invest in other Aiken County schools. He thought people would understand, but that didn't happen in a bond referendum in 2010. There has been talk of a one-cent sales tax referendum in November, but that would need new legislation from the S.C. General Assembly.

The trip to Columbia County is perhaps a “see it and believe it,” Jameson said.

“At this point, we're not endorsing anything,” he said. “But this is a neighboring county that is doing better than we are, and realtors have said we are losing people and home sales. It's time for us to go there and see why.”

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.