April 21 is the day when citizens of Beaufort County will determine if school classroom space and highly demanded career and technology education will be provided for our students.

Much controversy has been promoted about our Beaufort Count School District superintendent and the school board. However, this referendum is not about personalities. It is about providing a safe, quality learning environment for each and every student in Beaufort County.

Look around. Our county population keeps increasing and that means more school-age children. Up-to-date census data report population growth from 86,425 in 1990 to a predicted 200,000 in 2020. Of the total population, 16 percent are school-aged children.

Even with the growth, some citizens are asking: Why a referendum for building funding?

  • The state of South Carolina does not provide funding for school construction or building maintenance.
  • With no impact fees provided to our schools and the cost of school construction projects rising 7 percent annually, any delay will add millions to the cost.
  • Districts may borrow up to 8 percent of their current assessed capital value for countywide construction and maintenance projects that must be approved by the school board. Any funds needed for additional projects above the 8 percent must go to the voters for approval.
  • District approved bond funds can ONLY be spent on the specific projects outlined on the referendum ballot and are required to be accounted for separately from other building funds. School referendums have always been held by special elections.
  • New CATE Program building provides an opportunity to earn a certificate in a high-skill, high-wage, high-demand career and assists in meeting current county employment needs.

What are the safeguards?

  • School districts are required by law to have an annual comprehensive financial audit every year by a certified accounting firm approved by school boards.
  • All construction funds are part of that audit.
  • This audit must be reported to the State Department of Education, local school boards and members of the community.
  • The Beaufort County School District provides regular financial reports and quarterly capital expenditure reports to the school board and the public so we can all monitor and track the building progress.

Are there alternatives to building construction?

  • Why not school rezoning? Rezoning would require students from Bluffton to be bused to Northern Beaufort County. It would mean students must be up extremely early and ride on a bus for more than one and a half hours each way.
  • Why not morning-afternoon double sessions? This practice would place a real burden on working families, athletics, etc.
  • Why not use portables? Portables add additional safety concerns, they come with additional infrastructure costs, they depreciate quickly, they are costly to remove and they should not be considered permanent.

These suggestions kick the can down the road at student and taxpayer expense. This referendum is about our community’s students and teachers. A “yes” vote sends a strong message to our educational community that we support a quality learning environment for our youth.

Join me on April 21 in voting “yes” on this critical issue.

Dr. Barbara S. Nielsen of Hilton Head Island is a former South Carolina State Superintendent of Education.