EDITORIAL: Public concern with school plans not a surprise | Editorial
The Orangeburg County School District has two budget contingencies for 2022-23 based on what happens with teacher pay raises as approved in the S.C. House version of the state budget. If the Senate goes along with the $4,000 annual hike, the district estimates it could face a $3.8 million budget shortfall.
The House’s version of the budget calls for all teachers to get the increase, with the state funding 75% and the district funding 25%.
District Superintendent Shawn Foster says the money would have to come from the district’s fund balance or a tax increase.
Meanwhile, OCSD is pushing ahead with a $13.77 million plan to upgrade energy performance at its schools.
The $13.177 million is the first part of the district’s previously approved plans to borrow and spend $39.9 million for energy upgrades throughout the school district.
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Officials have said the performance energy upgrade project for the district will not require a tax increase, and pushing ahead now will save money with costs continuing to increase.
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The contract will provide the district with new HVAC equipment, new LED lights, water-conservation equipment, energy-control systems, a one-year maintenance plan and the ability to treat air with bipolar ionization.
So with a potential shortfall of millions of dollars for teacher pay increases and millions to be spent on school energy upgrades, a logical question is: What about the proposed $190 million facilities plan about which the district has held public meetings?
Well, first, officials say the energy upgrades will not be made in schools slated for closing. New facilities would get up-to-date equipment as part of the facilities plan.
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Otherwise the public is left to guess what comes next because the district says it has altered the facilities plan. Officials are not saying what has changed, stating they will wait to unveil changes at public meetings beginning April 26.
They are saying, however, that nothing has changed with financing the plan, which would require voter approval via a bond referendum. Officials continue to say no tax increase will be needed to cover the plan, which previously called for construction of a new Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School and a new elementary school in Santee that would bring together students from all elementary schools in the eastern part of the county. Current eastern elementary schools would be closed.
During the round of public hearings held on the plan, a number of concerns were raised, including the cost and the wisdom of school construction and closings. The concerns won’t go away with revisions in the plan.
It would seem to us that the district would be anxious to get out to the public the details of the revised plan. Not so to date, with the district declining this newspaper’s request for plan details.
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With so much going on with the school district’s finances — from how to pay for teacher raises, to energy upgrades, to major new construction plans — people will be looking for reassurance in every way possible long before any formal vote of the people.