The Kershaw County School Board on Tuesday night agreed to ask voters in November to back a penny sales tax increase and endorse a bond referendum to finance $130 million in school construction.
The 6-1 vote to place the school financing questions on the Nov. 4 ballot culminates 21/2 years of discussions on how best to address the county’s aging, and in one region of the county, sparsely populated rural schools. School board member Kim Durant from the North Central area of the county cast the lone negative vote. Two members of the nine-member board, Derrick Proctor and Dr. Don Copley, were absent.
“The justification I have used in talking with people in the community is, if not this, then what?” schools superintendent Frank Morgan said. “We have 40 and 50-year-old buildings. These buildings are past the point where a good cleaning and a coat of paint are enough.”
Morgan said he has spent the past 30 months speaking about the proposal to every community group that issued an invitation. “As we went out in the public they said, yeah we need this stuff. But we would rather it not be done with property taxes.”
The Legislature’s decision to allow some localities to impose a penny sales tax to finance capital projects for education cleared the way for the penny ballot initiative. Voters also have the option of choosing general obligation bonds to pay for new construction and renovations of schools and athletic facilities, although they would see their property taxes rise.
The proposal calls for building four new elementary schools, renovating three high schools and constructing additions and renovations to two middle schools. An applied technology education campus, which would operate in conjunction with Central Carolina Technical College and the county economic development office, is also included in the plan. It would be constructed on land donated by Kershaw County adjacent to CCTC.
Construction of a new North Central Elementary, adjacent to North Central Middle School, would involve the closure of three small elementary schools, Baron DeKalb, Mt. Pisgah and Bethune, long an emotional issue in the community. Morgan noted that the main building of Mt. Pisgah was constructed in 1924. Schools spokesman Mary Anne Byrd said property for the proposed new North Central elementary school was donated by the late Leonard Price.
In addition, $9.4 million of the $130 million would be allocated for athletics projects, including a new stadium for Camden High School. That would involve the closure of Zemp Stadium, a longtime venue for Kershaw County sports. Athletics facilities at Lugoff-Elgin High School and North Central High School would also be upgraded.
She said board members have been tweaking the language of the referenda that will appear on the ballot, and ultimately decided to list all projects so that voters would have complete information on the proposal.