In June the Beaufort County School District Board of Education voted 9-2 in favor of presenting to the County’s registered voters a new Bond Referendum to include the date and terms.
The referendum will be on the November 5 ballot in two parts. Voters must pass Part One (a $291 million package) in order for Part Two (a $54 million package) to pass. This means that Part One can pass and Part Two can fail, but Pat Two cannot pass if Part One doesn’t pass.
Part One of the referendum includes the following, with cost estimates:
- Safety and security improvements to every school in the district: $25.7 million
- Tearing down the outdated and rundown Robert Smalls International Academy, and constructing and equipping a replacement school: $71 million
- Adding classrooms and other needed facilities at the over-capacity May River High School and River Ridge Academy: $26 million
- Updating technology infrastructure at every school across the district:$55.3 million
- Renovations at Beaufort Elementary School: $24.2 million
- Renovations, construction and necessary demolition at Battery Creek High School and Hilton Head Island Middle School: $88.3 million
Part Two is a $54 million package, which includes the following (with cost estimates):
- Construction and renovation for Career and Technology Education, or “CATE”, at Battery Creek High School and May River High School: $12 million
- CATE renovations at Beaufort High School and Hilton Head Island High School: $5.1 million
- Athletic improvements at Beaufort Middle School, Whale Branch Middle School, River Ridge Academy, Bluffton Middle School and H.E. McCracken Middle School: $7.6 million
- Athletic improvements at all district high schools:$22 million
5. Playground improvements at early childhood centers, elementary schools, and preK-8 schools across the district: $8.7 million
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What is a School Bond Referendum?
It’s a county-wide election where registered voters decide whether to give the County School District authority to borrow money up to a predetermined sum to pay for capital projects that have been pre-approved — such as building new schools and/or expanding or renovating existing schools and school facilities.
What’s the focus of this particular School Bond Referendum?
Four main things: improving school safety measures for students and staffs, renovating or replacing aging facilities, adding classroom space to address enrollment growth, and upgrading technology infrastructure.
How will the November 5 bond referendum ballot be structured?
Voters will see two questions on the ballot. The first question will seek approval on one set of projects, and the second will seek approval on a separate set of projects. The second set of projects will be approved and funded only if voters also approve the first set. However, voters can approve the first set of projects and then vote down the second set.
What projects are included in each question?
- Question 1 – Approximately $290 million in safety and security upgrades at all district schools; technology infrastructure upgrades at schools district-wide; classroom additions at River Ridge Academy and May River High; a replacement building for Robert Smalls International Academy; and renovations at Beaufort Elementary and renovations and additions at Hilton Head Island Middle and Battery Creek High.
- Question 2 – An additional approximately $54 million in Career and Technology Education expansions at Battery Creek and May River high schools; design work for renovations at Hilton Head Island High; improvements to athletic facilities at district middle and high schools; and playground improvements at early childhood centers, elementary and PreK-8 schools.Again, these projects will be funded only if Question 1 is approved.
How were these specific projects determined?
A Community Project Review Committee (CPRC), an independent, select committee of Beaufort County residents, worked more than 900 hours – visiting 26 schools in Beaufort County as well as other South Carolina school districts and receiving presentations from outside experts – before producing a comprehensive district-wide list of capital needs. The total estimated cost of all projects identified by the CPRC was $629 million. The Beaufort County Board of Education then prioritized those CPRC-identified projects into two smaller subsets for inclusion in the November 5 ballot questions.
Who developed the cost estimates for the projects listed in the November 5 bond referendum?
The costs estimates were provided to the school district by a private-sector firm contracted by the school district which has done numerous other such estimates across the state.
Why is a bond referendum needed for these projects?
Projects included in the referendum, such as construction of new schools and expansions of existing schools, are not financed through the school district’s general operating funds. Instead, they are paid from the proceeds of long-term bonded indebtedness that spread the cost over the years in which the facilities will be used – much like a home mortgage. The amount of bonds the school district can issue without a referendum is limited to 8% of the value of all taxable property within the district, which is called the “8% debt limit.” The school district does not have enough 8% debt limit available to pay for the projects identified in the referendum. The necessity for bond referendums in South Carolina is not uncommon. Over the past two decades, South Carolina school districts have held more than 100 bond referendums.
Doesn’t the school district already receive state funding for its facilities?
Although the school district does receive some state funds for capital purposes, the majority of those dollars are used to maintain existing schools.
Will money from the bond referendum be used for anything other than the specific projects identified in the ballot question?
No. By law, the funds can be used for no other purpose.
How much will this mean in higher taxes?
If voters approve both questions on November 5, the district will borrow $344 million for these construction projects and pay it back using the traditional method of funding a bond referendum. Residents with homes valued at $100,000 can expect to pay $28 more a year in taxes. That works out to an additional 54 cents a week. The resident owner of a $200,000 house can expect to pay $56 more a year, or $1.08 a week. The resident owner of a $300,000 house can expect to pay $84 more a year, or $1.62 a week. There is a higher price for non-resident homeowners, and owners of cars and boats also share in the responsibility. .
When was the school district’s last successful bond referendum?
Eleven years ago in 2008 was the last School Bond Referendum passed. Beaufort County voters rejected bond referendums in 2016 and 2018.
What has happened in the school district since the last successful bond referendum?
Since that time, the school district’s total enrollment has increased by more than 3,000 students. The school district has issued bonds within its 8% debt limit to address as many capital needs as possible. The last major school built from the 2008 money was May River High School. The amounts available under the 8% debt limit have not been able to meet the ongoing capital needs and to address enrollment growth which has increased more than 17% – making Beaufort County one of the fastest growing student populations in South Carolina.
How can voters be confident that the school district’s finances are being managed effectively?
The school district’s financial operations have earned national recognitions and awards, such as the Government Finance Officers Association Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting. The school district has received one of the highest credit bond ratings with Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s in South Carolina. And over the past 18 years, the school district has never had a negative finding in any of its annual independent audits.
What is the school district’s track record for building schools in a cost-effective way?
The school district successfully manages millions of dollars in construction projects each year. The new gymnasium and performing arts center at Whale Branch Early College High School are examples of the district’s ability to manage well-built and cost-effective construction projects.
Why aren’t increases in teacher salaries part of this referendum?
South Carolina law restricts the use of referendum funds to capital projects. Proceeds from bonds – including referendum-approved bonds – cannot be used for school district operations, such as teacher salaries.
Will school attendance zones be changed if the referendum is approved and the projects completed?
Changes in attendance zones are made by the Beaufort County Board of Education, and any rezoning issues would be handled separately from referendum projects. No project that is part of the November 5 referendum would require rezoning.
Who uses district schools?
Students, residents, community groups and local governments use Beaufort County Schools. Facilities, including athletic areas, are available to the public after school hours. This year, more than 22,000 students are enrolled in district schools.
What will happen if the referendum doesn’t pass?
Simply put, the projects listed in the referendum will likely not be undertaken. With Ballot Question 1, for example, safety and security upgrades will lack funding, technology upgrades will lack funding, aging school facilities will not be renovated and overcrowding will continue to be a problem at the school district’s two newest schools, River Ridge Academy and May River High. At those schools, options could include larger class sizes, additional purchases of mobile classrooms and rezoning students to different schools that have space available. Any decision to undertake projects in the future would likely mean higher price tags because of increasing construction and equipment costs.
Why are overcrowded classrooms a problem?
Educators believe overcrowding in schools disrupts the learning process for young people.
Can growth be controlled so that overcrowding in our schools does not continue?
Overcrowding is a result of rapid population growth and land-planning challenges. While the school district must respond to these issues as they relate to education and school construction, the Board of Education and school district staff are not the bodies that can solve these long-term problems. Issues related to growth are under the authority of county and municipal governments. The school district’s discussions with area leaders, including those in Bluffton and Beaufort, are leading to more critical review of development plans and how they will impact public services, including schools.
What has changed with the leadership of the school district since the last referendum?
The Beaufort County Board of Education has experienced significant turnover since the last referendum, and six of its 11 members are new to the Board. The school district also has a new superintendent selected after a six-month nationwide search and interview process.
How is the school district’s planning for the referendum different from previous referendums?
In the last two referendums, school district administration took the lead in developing the lists of projects. With the November 5 referendum, community volunteers on the CPRC developed the project list after spending more than 900 hours reviewing the school district’s facilities needs.
Questions about specific items in on the referendum ballot
What sorts of safety and security upgrades will be installed if the referendum passes?
Each school in the district will be outfitted with new safety features, and the specific features will depend on the school’s individual situation. Security improvements could include reinforced entryways, upgraded door hardware and doors where needed, upgraded security cameras, upgraded internal emergency communications systems, improved exterior lighting and improved security fencing.
What sorts of technology upgrades will be installed if the referendum passes?
Most upgrades will be infrastructure improvements that won’t be readily visible to a visitor walking around a school, but are necessary for schools to offer students and staff the latest technology and security systems. Improvements will include new equipment such as computer servers, wireless access points, sound and lighting systems, heating and air conditioning controls, upgraded fire alarms and fiber cable installation. Many of the latest building security measures require robust technology “backbones” to operate. Also included will be additional building space for computer servers.
What are the expansions at River Ridge Academy and May River High?
Bluffton is one of South Carolina’s fastest-growing towns, and Bluffton is home to the school district’s most crowded schools. Although River Ridge and May River are the school district’s two newest schools, they are already near or over capacity, and mobile classrooms have been purchased for both campuses to deal with rapidly growing enrollment. Both schools’ original designs included space for additional classroom wings, and the November 5 referendum includes funds to build those additions.
Why does the referendum include funds to demolish the current Robert Smalls International Academy and build a new school on the campus?
An architectural review committee hired to review the facilities at Robert Smalls determined it would be cheaper to build a new school than to renovate the current building to meet today’s teaching and learning standards. This recommendation was accepted by the Community Project Review Committee.
What are the renovations that would take place at Beaufort Elementary?
- Beaufort Elementary – Improved safety and security systems, including fire protection; upgraded technology; upgraded HVAC systems; renovated media center and restrooms; upgraded plumbing and electrical systems; and replacement of outdated lighting inside and outside the building.
What are the renovations and additions that will take place at Hilton Head Island Middle and Battery Creek High?
- Hilton Head Island Middle – Improved safety and security systems, including fire protection; replacement of old doors and windows; replacement of old plumbing, electrical and mechanical systems; renovated restrooms; a new roof; parking lot repairs; upgraded technology; and refurbishment of the school auditorium, gymnasium and bleachers.
- Battery Creek High – Improved safety and security systems; replacement of outmoded HVAC, electrical and plumbing systems; renovated restrooms; upgraded facilities for accessibility; new signage; replacement of old flooring; renovation of the cafeteria, auxiliary gymnasium, performing arts center and training room; replacement of the field house; a new wrestling room; technology upgrades; and parking lot repairs.
If voters approve the referendum, when would construction begin?
The additions at River Ridge Academy and May River High School are already being designed, and construction would begin as soon as the projects could be bid if voters approve the November 5 referendum. Other projects included in the referendum would be phased in over the next four years.
What renovations would take place at Hilton Head Island High School?
Hilton Head Island High was built 36 years ago, and separate expansions over the years have made it the largest single-story facility in the school district. Its roof and many of its current systems – HVAC, fire protection and technology, for example – are nearing the end of their expected usefulness. Because the renovation of Hilton Head Island High would be the largest and most complicated construction project in the school district’s history, planning would take several years. If the referendum is approved, planning and design would begin immediately.
What sorts of improvements would be made at children’s playgrounds at early childhood centers, elementary and PreK-8 schools?
Most elementary-level schools have multiple playgrounds designed to serve children of differing ages. Approval of the referendum would allow the district to replace aging playground equipment at schools across the county.
How would athletic facilities at middle and high schools be improved?
All district high schools would have their outdoor field surfaces replaced, and middle schools without lighting for nighttime play and practice would have lighting installed. Middle and high schools would also receive improvements based on their individual needs as determined by outside sports facility consultants and school principals and athletic directors. Those improvements might include scoreboards, dugouts for baseball/softball fields, bleachers, sports equipment and lockers for athletes.
What would be included in the Career and Technology Education expansions at Battery Creek and May River high schools?
Student interest in CATE courses and local labor market demands would determine what facilities would be added at Battery Creek and May River and also what courses might be added.
What are CATE courses, and why are they becoming more popular with students and parents?
The school district’s CATE courses prepare students for high-skill, high-wage, high-demand careers across a broad range of fields. Some students use their CATE training to move on to two-year or four-year colleges, while others earn industry certifications that allow them to begin their careers immediately after high school. Beaufort County’s high schools currently offer CATE courses that include aviation/aerospace, agricultural science, engineering, health care, welding, culinary arts and automotive technology. CATE courses can include work-based internships that allow students to apply their new knowledge and skills in real-world settings.
If voters approve Question 1 and Question 2, when would construction begin on the projects listed under Question 2?
Work on both sets of projects – Question 1 and Question 2 – would begin simultaneously with the goal of completing work on all projects within four years.