Column: Open communication necessary for tax plan
Thanks to our local legislative delegation, this November residents of Aiken County will have an opportunity to vote on a one-cent education capital sales and use tax for the construction and maintenance of Aiken County Public School facilities.
Currently, the district receives $17.5 million annually for facilities from the 8 percent bonding capacity, more than half of which is normally allocated for maintaining and updating existing facilities. Those funds are carefully allocated to projects in our Five-Year Facility Master Plan.
The Master Plan catalogs and prioritizes the capital improvements and major cyclic maintenance that is needed in the 20 elementary schools, 11 middle schools, seven high schools and learning centers across Aiken County. An independent consultant conducted a study in 2008 and determined, at that time, $350 million was needed to address all of the building and maintenance needs of our schools. The District’s Five-Year Plan is updated and reprioritized yearly to document and provide for any necessary changes.
Recently, a community group with expertise in systems analysis reviewed the plan and concluded that the District does not have sufficient funds for our building needs.
Neighboring districts have improved their school facilities through voter-approved bond referendums. The question that will appear before voters in our county in November is the result of economic analysis, legal consultation, community input, and School Board direction and approval.
The District’s role in the referendum process is to provide accurate and timely information about the Capital Improvement One Cent Sales and Use Tax, and the effect it may have on the District, as well as the taxpayers. By Code Section 8-13-1346, the South Carolina Ethics Reform Act of 1991, employees are not allowed to use public funds, property, or time to influence an election. This means no District resources can be used to advocate for or against the referendum. Of course, on our employees’ own time, they have the same rights to speech and advocacy as other residents.
The District’s mission is to create in students a passion for learning and achievement that will serve them as they compete and contribute in a global society. Our District Strategic Plan and individual school plans all lead to that mission. Aiken County ranks among the highest in the state for percentage of funds spent on instruction, evidenced by this year’s graduating seniors being awarded more than $50 million in college scholarships. Our talented teachers, rigorous curriculum and on-going improvement efforts through professional development continue to make Aiken County schools among the top in the state.
However, our school facilities, specifically those that are part of the referendum, including North Augusta High School (built in 1969), Aiken High School (1953), Ridge Spring Monetta Elementary School (1952) and High School (1956), and Leavelle McCampbell Middle School (1920), make teaching modern education to the children of tomorrow a more challenging task.
My senior staff and I will be conducting informational meetings across Aiken County in September and October. Look for information, soon to be released, that identifies locations and dates of community meetings in your area.
The District has a question and answer section on our website to address frequently asked questions about the referendum and new questions will be addressed on a regular basis.
We look forward to having informed conversations about the election and having an opportunity to share the achievements of Aiken County Public Schools.
Dr. Elizabeth Everitt is the superintendent of the Aiken County Public School District.