COLUMN: The power of the penny
Have you heard the old saying, “Find a penny, pick it up, all day long you'll have good luck?” Well, the Aiken County Public School District may have a chance to make good use of pennies in the future. This week the members of the Aiken County Legislative Delegation introduced legislation in both the South Carolina House (H.4212) and Senate (S.940). If this legislation is passed, it will allow Aiken County voters to decide if a penny sales tax should be used to fund facility maintenance and construction projects for our Aiken County public schools.
Currently, only about 19 of the 81 school districts in South Carolina are permitted to fund facility maintenance and construction projects through the use of a penny sales tax. The proposed legislation will go a long way to resolve the inequality across the state. A big “thank you” goes out to the members of our Aiken County Legislative Delegation.
Our Aiken County public schools are desperately in need of funds to address facility maintenance and construction needs. Fifty percent of the District school buildings are between 40 and 60 years old and one is 90 years old. The District teachers and administrators are doing an outstanding job ensuring our students are receiving a quality education in our aging facilities.
In fact, Aiken County public schools earned an Excellent rating for academic performance on the most recent South Carolina State School Report Card. The District's high school students are excelling with high End of Course test results and an 80 percent high school graduation rate, both of which exceed the state's average. Even though our academic performance is on the rise, our teachers and administrators should not have to deal with issues facing the District's aging facilities on a daily basis.
Over the years, the District has been good stewards of taxpayer dollars and has done a good job managing facility maintenance and construction, but the aging facilities are requiring more and more attention. A penny sales tax could raise approximately $18 to $20 million annually. The additional revenue can be used to address vital building projects throughout the District. One benefit of a penny sales tax is that the cost of facility maintenance and construction of our public schools will not rest solely on the property and business owners of Aiken County. A penny sales tax will allow all people who conduct business in Aiken County to contribute to the cost of our public school's facility maintenance and construction needs. About one-third of the tax dollars generated by the penny sales tax is projected to be from non-Aiken County citizens, so even folks passing through Aiken County will contribute to our school facility needs.
Over the next few months, I am sure the penny sales tax question will generate much discussion. Please contact me or Mr. Ray Fleming, District 5 School Board Trustee, if you have any questions.