Thumbs up:To opening of New Ellenton facilities:

A big step forward was taken by New Ellenton last Sunday with the opening of its newly renovated City Hall. The refurbished facility, located near the corner of Main Street and Pine Hill Avenue, represents progress in the small Aiken County town, and should be seen as a marquee project for the community. Residents will undoubtedly have a better place to convene after the nearly $1 million worth of upgrades. The City also has more projects planned, including the completion of a new community center, which will replace the old building on Oak Ridge Avenue. The projects put a positive spotlight on the community, fulfill growing needs and should generate benefits for years.

Thumbs down:To funding problems facing schools:

Education leaders have several projects lined up for area schools, but funding problems have forced them to rethink their plans over the years. For more than three decades, these plans have been listed as part of the School Boardís five-year plan, but they are seemingly restructured, removed and added every year.

Thankfully, local organizations continue to look for ways to keep Aiken Countyís education up to par. The Aiken County Chamber of Commerce, for instance, organized a trip to Columbia County in Georgia to get a stronger sense of how those schools across the Savannah River have been successful. Additionally, S.C. Sen. Tom Young is exploring options to provide the local school district with the authority they need to pass a penny sales tax. While the possibility of passing a tax needs to be explored more, itís a positive sign that officials are at least discussing ways to improve education.

Thumbs up:To Juilliard in Aiken:

The nearly weeklong event known as Juilliard in Aiken wrapped up this week, and was a hit for both performers and audience members. More than 1,000 people attended the event, and more than 40 people performed. This yearís festival was centered around Johann Sabastian Bachís classic piece ďSaint Matthew Passion,Ē which tells the story of Christís last days. The festival began six years ago, and is one of the most important events as far as the arts community in Aiken County.

Juilliard in Aiken is also an excellent example of effective collaboration. It brings top talent from New York City to our community and helps those artists cultivate their craft for performances in the future.

Thumbs down:To stripping school boards of authority:

A S.C. Senate bill unwisely proposes to dismantle authority from local school boards by having school boardís budgets be approved by public referendum.

According to The State newspaper, school boards would have to hold at least two public hearings on proposed budgets, and people would have the ability to offer amendments that the board would have to vote up or down right on the spot.

This is an almost dangerous proposition because if budgets arenít passed on time, the schools in the district would have to operate under the previous yearís budget. The Senate should not move forward with this bill. Members of school boards are elected officials, and consequently are the voices of the voting public. If those officials donít make wise decisions, vote them out of office, but donít micro-manage budget decisions and handcuff the future of education.