Do you ever get the feeling that public education is a bottomless money pit?
Here in Horry County the demand for more tax dollars to fund the Horry County School District never ceases.
Ten years ago, taxpayers added a penny sales tax, hoping the projected $800 million it could raise would help address the construction and maintenance of the county’s huge school district.
That seemed like a lot of money at the time, and it was.
Unfortunately, the Horry County Board of Education has not spent the money wisely. For example, the board gave a construction contract for all five new schools to the high bidder.
That doesn’t seem fiscally conservative.
Those schools have been finished. They are pretty. But we haven’t been provided with convincing evidence from the school district that these energy efficient schools are living up to expectations.
That’s in the past.
What really concerns me is the future.
Recently, the school district identified $754 million needed for new construction, renovations, maintenance and upkeep.
The board is considering raising taxes and/or floating bonds. Either option bids poorly for taxpayers.
Just last week, the board of education met and tried to prioritize school facility needs for the next five years.
The price tag for the projects identified as top priorities is staggering.
District staff projects it will take nearly $60 million to replace the old Whittemore Park Middle School, $53.5 million to renovate Conway High School, $56 million to renovate Myrtle Beach High School and $55 million to renovate and expand St. James High School.
(St. James High is one of the newest highschools in Horry County and already needs to be expanded.)
Then, the board anticipates it will need $64 million to replace HVAC units, $35 million for roofing repairs and nearly $8 million for athletic facilities at schools.
It will be interesting to see how new school board chairman Ken Richardson addresses funding for all of these needs.
Already he is thinking outside of the box. He wants the school district to apply for some of the $3.5 billion the federal government is giving South Carolina for Hurricane Florence relief.
There’s a bill in the S.C. General Assembly that would direct money to “shovel ready” projects. Some of the facility needs in Horry County could be ready within the three-month requirement included in the bill.
This approach does not address why so much money is needed by the school district.
Rapid growth puts enormous strains on the school district. I’d like to see Richardson look at higher impact fees as one way to pay for new schools.
It only seems fair that those putting pressure on the school system should help pay for it.