Tuesday, September 2, 2014
“In the Hills of Carolina, stands my alma mater fair.”
As the crowd stood together on Friday night in North Augusta High School’s stadium singing our school song, I had a brief moment to reflect upon just what my days on Knobcone Ave. had afforded me. Great teachers like Dorothy Flanagan, Sarah Anderson, Karen and “Chief” Williams, Terry Skidmore, and so many others put me to the challenge daily to stretch myself in order to develop a solid educational foundation that continues to serve me well today. Upon graduating in 1992, and then traveling 3,000 miles away to my university, I found myself ready for the task of competing with the other 8,000 students from various countries and cultural backgrounds in my freshman class. But, of course, that was in the days when a word processor was standard issue for college students and text messaging was a science fiction concept alluded to in the Horizons ride at Disney’s Epcot.
Today, our students, including my own two, are immersed from birth in technologies that were just a fictional concept not so many years ago. They must be prepared to step into a global pool of employment applicants – not just those close enough to fill out an application and drop it by to the employer. Knowing how to successfully use computer-based technologies is expected; algebraic concepts are now elementary-school curriculum instead of something we started as “advanced” students in middle school. South Carolina has some of the toughest standards in the country, and our students are being trained to compete with the best of the best by our dedicated teachers. Don’t forget: right here in our little town, we have some of the highest award-winning schools in our state. My husband and I count ourselves blessed to be able to send our children off everyday to be taught by excellent teachers. Yet, despite the quality of teachers we have in our community, we must consider the environments we are providing them to teach in. Are we providing the physical space and tools today our young Yellow Jackets need to meet their impending competition tomorrow?
Aiken County measures, in geographic size, 28 square miles larger than the state of Rhode Island. Aiken County Public School busses travel more than 10,000 miles each day. Roughly 5.8 percent of Aiken County Public School classrooms are housed in portable units, many of them the same units in use more than 20 years ago when I was in these same schools; our state’s average is 0.8 percent. Fifty percent of Aiken County schools are between 40 and 60 years old; rising facility age correlates with rising maintenance costs and technology needs. Just sample media classrooms in many of our older schools. Count the number of electrical outlets. Is it fair to have two total outlets in a room housing 30 computers? That number may have been sufficient in the 1960s and i’70s when these buildings were built. Does this make sense today? Does having a drainpipe from the roof through the middle of a library or an entire high school classroom building with absolutely no running water make sense in 2014? How about more than 30 exit doors and only three main restrooms for nearly 1,600 students?
With 41 schools in our district, we are receiving absolutely no federal or state money for funding of school facilities. This is a county responsibility. Annually, the State Constitution allows governmental entities to issue bonds to fund capital projects (construction of new schools and improvements to existing schools). These bonds are limited to 8 percent of the Aiken County tax base. The funds generated total about 17 million dollars each year which is not enough to meet the building and maintenance needs of 41 schools. Is this a just and sound scenario for our children to have the schools needed to provide them the proper environment for successful education in this technological age? Does this make sense?
Much of our local student population returns to the local workforce, and they are the folks providing for us everyday; just visit a local nursing home or hospital and talk to the caregivers there. I know that receiving services such as medical care from well-trained, educated EMTs, CNAs, and nurses (not just doctors) can mean in the most critical situation of life or death.
Whether or not you have a student currently attending public schools in this county, you will feel the effects of the quality of education that is provided. And, you will economically benefit. Numerous studies show that areas with sound, current building facilities directly correlate with higher property values.
A win-win solution for students and voters exists in the proposed 1-cent sales tax, or Educational Sales and Use Tax, (also known as the 1-percent tax due to one penny being one percent of a dollar) which will be offered for a vote in the general election at the end of your ballot this November. If passed, this tax will only be used toward improving our K-12 facilities in Aiken County; you will see the exact list of proposed projects, and these will be the only related projects that this money can be used for. Voting “yes” to this proposed tax and “yes” to the bond referendum (so that monies can be used and issued upfront) will also mean voting “yes” to tax relief. At least 10 percent of the sales tax collected must be used to provide a credit (reduction) in existing property tax millage against existing debt service millage, including those taxes you pay on your homes and automobiles. And, approximately 30 percent of the funds collected are projected to come from non-Aiken County residents.
As a mother of Aiken County public school students, I ask you, as a voter, to vote a resounding yes/yes in November, so that all our children can attend schools equipped with the basic physical requirements needed to run every day technologies essential for their education and work abilities. As an Aiken County homeowner and resident, I ask you to vote yes/yes to investing in our community, making it a more economically-valued environment for growth. It seems to me that we could all spare a little change to spark greater success for our community. Vote “yes” and “yes” on Nov. 4 to make Aiken County make sense.