Florence One school board to talk funding for new schools

Florence One school board to talk funding for new schools

FLORENCE, SC (WMBF) - Every single school in Florence School District One could be impacted by a $277 million property tax referendum.

The district is holding its first-ever community forum at the Poynor Adult Education Center to talk about what direction the district could be headed. Board members will discuss current school conditions, proposed new projects and financial strategies to meet the needs.

Community members, parents and teachers will have the chance to hear about the new plans. If the referendum passes this October, Florence One projects would start immediately and some students could see a brand new school in the next three years.

"We went 20 years without building any new schools and it's been 35 years since construction or additions were made at any high school," said Barry Townsend, chairman of the Florence One School Board.

West Florence High School is the oldest high school and it is the only one that is over capacity. Built for 1,500, it has 1,800 students now.

Voters rejected a similar referendum 12 years ago, which is why the district is playing catch up. Townsend said the plan is to replace Williams Middle School, Savannah Grove, Briggs Elementary, Timrod and Wallace Gregg Elementary schools, which were all built in the 1950s, and West Florence High School, which was built in the 1970s.

Florence One has 21 schools to keep up with 17,000 students.

"Two-and-a-half million of the $277 million goes directly to technology to help jumpstart our one-to-one initiative as well," Townsend said.

Using taxpayer dollars is the only financial option the district sees fit. There are three things Townsend said could happen if the district chose the pay-as-you-go option.

"Schools like Briggs Elementary, that was built in 1953, they would not be able to get a new school until 2026," Townsend said, adding some renovations would have to wait until 2031.

The second point is it uses every penny the district has, leaving no money to keep up with the current facilities and properly maintain them.

Townsend said the last problem is there is a limit to the money the district can actually access.

"It's roughly $10 million a year now allows us to build an elementary school that is roughly $20 million and it takes two years to build and it even works for a middle school that is $30 million and takes 3 years to build," Townsend said.

The pay-as-you-go option also does not allow the district to address any issues at a high school because Townsend said a new one is $80 million.

Ultimately, Townsend wants the school district to get out of the hole it is in and the goal is to complete all of the 16 construction projects within the next eight or nine years, instead of waiting decades.

Townsend said the projects would affect every taxpayer, whether or not someone has a kid in Florence One schools.

"I point to the other impacts this has. We all benefit from living in an educated society, whether it's the economic impact and the ability to recruit businesses here, or whether it's just the impact from having a more educated workforce," Townsend said.

The district hopes the community forum will give a resolution as to whether or not the Florence community wants to invest the dollars in education.

"We have the fourth-lowest property taxes in the nation and two of the states below us are Mississippi and Alabama, which are also the only two states that rank lower in education than South Carolina," Townsend said.

The community forum will be on Tuesday, Aug. 8 at 7 p.m. at Poynor Adult Education Center, located at 301 S. Dargan St.

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