Ah yes, a school built in the 1950s with the infrastructure to match and the sweet smell of mildew; thatís exactly what our children need in Aiken County to boost their motivation to attend school... Not.
Itís time we taxpayers get off our high horses of selfishness and start thinking about the children. Whether it is a vote ďyesĒ on a future ballot to support a facilities bond referendum or approval of a one cent sales tax, please support the school boardís attempts to garner funds for new or upgraded schools in Aiken County. Under the leadership of S.C. Sen. Tom Young, R-Aiken, an education bill has been introduced in the South Carolina General Assembly that would give districts the ability to enact a one cent sales tax levy contingent upon approval from voters. Aiken County could receive roughly $19 million annually for facility improvements; thereby dramatically fast-forwarding our districtís attempts to address facility needs instead of merely affixing bandages on hemorrhaging facilities.
How can we possibly think itís pragmatic or even rational to allow our children, administrators, and school staff to remain in aging, dilapidated schools day in and day out? I was educated in Aiken County public schools, and Iím proud of the quality education I received. Unfortunately, not one of the schools I attended in the 1980s has been rebuilt. Ask any economic development expert, and heíll assure you potential newcomers, businesses and industry review the townís educational system and schools when deciding on whether to locate to that particular area.
Who is willing to sacrifice a little for our children to reap the lasting benefits from the investment? I am. While itís accurate that new schools do not educate children, just ask any student who attends school in Lexington County what new schools have done for them. They would say without hesitation the new schools had an extremely positive impact on their overall morale and school pride, not to forget the personal effect of being in an environment that cultivates learning, technological advancements and is aesthetically appealing. Visit one of the schools in Lexington. Our facilities pail in comparison to their schools in addition to the attitude of taxpayers there to willingly pay substantial tax millage rates so everyone can be proud of the schools, which become a cornerstone in most communities.
Our children must be postured to compete in a global society against students who have been exposed to cutting-edge technology because of updated infrastructure and communications wiring within the new schools, to even include green energy construction and other energy saving initiatives. Technology is infused in the curriculum thereby deeming students competent on the level of second nature confidence. I believe our children deserve the best we can give them. Somebody sacrificed for us, right?
More than half of Aiken Countyís 41 facilities are more than 50 years old. The school districtís annual maintenance budget is not sufficient to keep up with increasing maintenance issues. All it would take is for a few more unselfish adults to wake up and actually pay attention to the travesty at hand.
Iíll give credit to Aiken County Board of Education Ė of which I was a member from 2008-2012 Ė for attempting to acquire the necessary funds in order to build six new schools across the county for a sizable $236 million. Yes, the school facilities bond referendum placed on the ballot back in 2010 failed. However, examine closely and youíll see only 24 percent of eligible voters actually voted. Itís quite possible had the other 76 percent of voters saw the necessity in voting on this issue, some of our children could be sitting in new schools right now. I already expect those who voted against the bond referendum several years ago would disagree with my sentiments. Iím fine with that, because Iím only one person entitled to my opinion.
If I can appeal to the 76 percent who didnít vote to see this issue as a priority and support current efforts to make a change, then Iím comfortable with that scenario.
Some people will take out second mortgages on homes or max out credit cards, or even tap into savings to upgrade homes, or do whatever is necessary to secure a new home. Letís be honest Ė donít you feel good when you acquire something new? Letís send the message to our children that we are willing to invest in them as we do in ourselves.
Donna Moore Wesby is a former Aiken County school board member and is executive director of the Education Matters Nonprofit Corporation.