I attended the Monday night meeting of the Stakeholders Committee for the School Board Facilities Committee. I attended in support of finding ways to keep Ambler, AR Lewis, and Holly Springs Elementary Schools open. There are some important take-aways that must be shared and soon.
This catastrophe-in-the-making is not something that has come about just in the last month, or eight months, or eleven months. It has been brewing for quite a while. A long-time, organized effort to keep taxes down has placed our entire school district in jeopardy. No longer can this situation be shoved to the back burner, tabled for further research, or referred to committee.
It is evident that the communities represented by these committee members know that the disunity of our school board is the greatest contributor to our current crisis. I wonder what AdvancEd thinks about this current proposal. SDPC administrators are not the “bad guys” here, the recommendations they present to the board must fall within law. Our budget is sound and transparent, but we cannot spend more than we bring in.
The School Board of Pickens County must decide quickly on plans to address critical needs. It must not be considered a stop-gap measure. The research presented at the meeting showed that every school in our district will eventually be affected by the current proposal.
Two viable solutions were presented last night, both can work. My preferred solution is to increase the Pickens County sales tax. A 1 percent sales tax would be added to prepared food. This is a tax that we choose to pay when we choose to eat out. It will not be added to groceries. It is not a property tax.
This increase is conservatively projected to bring a substantial amount of dollars to the school district’s coffers. A penny sales tax would decrease everyone’s property tax, including commercial and investment property owners.
This proposal will have a 10 year limitation. By law, 10 percent must be used to reduce district debt, which will in turn, reduce tax. The balance of the revenue must be spent on capital needs in the district, in other words, things (buildings and technology), not people.
The provisions for business owners may be an encouragement for potential businesses moving to Pickens County. This is a win for our students, schools, and communities. This should debunk the theory of the organized anti-tax group in our county that all tax increases are bad.
There are two major concerns, however. Our board must be united in order for the community to see the critical importance of passing this in a county-wide referendum. In addition, a strong grass-roots effort will be necessary to ensure that our citizens are convinced completely and quickly of the dire need for this tax. The potential for the revenue is amazing.
The second solution involves using school buildings for charter schools. From the reports presented on Monday evening, starting a charter school will take more time than we have for a 2016-2017 opening. If the board will give the time needed to work toward this solution, we will need to work like crazy and pass the 1 percent tax increase (the Consumer Tax) in November, then work toward offering public charter schools through the SDPC beginning in the 2017-2018 school year.
I know that Pickens County can and must provide a “Free Quality Public Education For All Students.” I am ready and eager to do my part.