Citizens Advocating Responsible Education (CARE) does not support the $76 million school referendum on April 21 because we have no confidence in the district leadership or the school board’s ability to provide adequate financial oversight.
More than half ($45 million) is set aside for a new school in Bluffton, which, according to Superintendent Jeff Moss, would not be built for about five years. The original estimates for May River High School was $35 million, and yet the final cost was nearly $70 million.
How can we trust any estimates from the Moss administration?
The school board has already addressed the immediate need by purchasing mobile classrooms for River Ridge Academy and Pritchardville Elementary School. These will be in place this August.
Four of the six elementary schools in Bluffton are considerably below capacity and, in fact, will be even lower in five years, according to data from the school district. One of the issues is that the boundary lines are too big in Bluffton. Consider the fact that many Pritchardville students pass other elementary schools on their way to Pritchardville.
Parents have expressed concern about re-zoning, but re-zoning will occur anytime a new school is built.
In addition, there has been no evidence presented to support construction of three new career and technical buildings in Bluffton, Beaufort and Hilton Head, considering that the district now spends millions with ACE, the other Vo-Tech school, and is exploring ways to expand that relationship. Plus, we already have CATE buildings at May River and Battery Creek.
Your taxes on school debt service will increase by 7 percent and will be reflected on your property tax bill as well as taxes on cars and boats. The $76 million referendum does not include any funds to hire teachers for these schools, heat and cool these buildings and maintain these buildings.
Trust and judgment are critical elements.
The current FBI investigation relates to two schools, May River and River Ridge, the very schools that will benefit from this referendum. The Superintendent pleaded guilty to two ethics violations, was fined and reprimanded by the State Ethics Commission.
And what did the Moss majority on the school board do? They gave him bonuses of more than $70,000 in the past two years.
The school board chairman recently told his colleagues that this is the “worst board” he has seen in more than 20 years.
So, how can we trust them to provide the necessary oversight of a massive school building program?
The vote to place the referendum before the voters was approved by a slim 6 to 5 vote; four former board members also oppose this referendum.
It’s a given that growth will continue in Bluffton, but not all of it will be families with school-age children.
We believe that an impartial third-party should conduct a thorough review of all facilities, enrollment trends and future growth before any new construction takes place.
Since this is a special election on a Saturday in April, voter turnout will be critical. Every vote will count.
We urge you to stand up and be counted and vote “no” on April 21.
Richard Bisi of Hilton Head Island is co-founder of Citizens Advocating Responsible Education (CARE).