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Lexington County School District One’s bond referendum raises passionate feelings on both sides

Lexington, SC (Paul Kirby) – Tuesday, the voters of Lexington County have the opportunity to make a decision that will greatly affect the face of schools in the largest school district in Lexington County. It could also impact any real property you own if you live in the district through the amount of taxes you pay for owning that home, land, or any other taxable assets. Lexington County School District One has asked the voters to approve a $365 million-dollar bond referendum that will allow them to undertake an ambitious 5 year plan to handle the growth that few argue is coming. Lexington County is growing at a record pace and many of the people who are moving here are moving into the heart of the county for the schools, recreational opportunities, and a generally high quality of life.

Lexington One stretches from the western edge of Lake Murray to Pelion and encompasses the area in between. The towns of Lexington, Pelion, and Gilbert are in the district. Some portions are extremely urban while others can be rural with hundreds of acres under plow and planted with crops of various sorts.

In their growth plan, the district says they will build two new schools to replace schools that are simply too old and on such a small piece of property that they are no longer good for their intended purpose. Those schools are Pelion Middle School and Gilbert Elementary. Additionally, there are also plans to build a new elementary school somewhere in the general vicinity of River Bluff High to service the area between I-20 and the heart of Lexington that is sprouting homes like weeds. The District also wants to replace its aging transportation facility where buses are often stored during the summer months and taken for maintenance.

Much of the rest of the money is said to be earmarked for major security upgrades of schools that would add layers of protection that a shooter or anyone intent on harming others would have to penetrate to get into a school. These stages could be doors and other perimeter security features that would at least slow down an individual trying to penetrate security and enter a school until an armed resource officer can respond. Other security upgrades could be anything from new fire alarms to a serving line in the cafeterias to protect the students from outbreaks of food-borne illnesses.

Of course, there’s a great deal more to this than just these things. Items on the plan include everything from a new wing on White Knoll High School and a new Performing Arts Center for that facility to major renovations or maintenance on others. You can see the entire plan on the district’s website. At the end of this article, a link to that district page and the Vote Yes site has been provided as have links to the Vote No presence on the internet. The slogan of the group that’s spearheading the push for approval of this referendum is “Every1Wins.” On the other hand, the Vote No folks have coined the phrase "SUPPORT LEXINGTON 1 SCHOOLS" and are using that as their mantra.

On the other hand, the folks saying that the bond referendum should be defeated vary in their reasoning, but all are just as passionate. Some say that if the district’s leadership did a better job of managing the tax dollars they already receive, they could build the necessary facilities without a hike in taxes to pay off a bond which is just borrowed money. Those people point to the recent purchase of a piece of property in the Pelion area from a former board member. The district paid nearly $1 million dollars for that land, a price that several large property tract owners in the area say is well above fair-market value. The county had the property assessed at approximately $144,000 or about seven times less than what the district paid for it. District leaders said Monday that they were surprised and unprepared for the criticism and backlash they received after that purchase. In the case of one board member Cindy Smith, she said she felt as if the people of Pelion would look on the purchase favorably and see it as a gift to the area, a piece of property that would be "shovel ready" when the bond passed.

Others think that District One needs to build new schools and should be able to borrow through bonds for that, but believe that the current referendum has too many frills. The supporter’s slogan, “Every1Wins” is proof enough for those people that the board of trustees tried to throw a bone to every attendance area or school simply to get the bond to pass. It is hard to vote no when you, or in this case your children, will be getting better, improved, or even brand-new facilities for their education.

Few argue with the results of District One. The schools are some of the best in the state and that in itself is causing the problem. The question that seems to arise from the “defeat the bond crowd” is when is the next expense just too much and when do you get to a point that some, not all, simply can’t afford to live or do business here anymore?

Still another vocal group thinks people should vote no and then pressure Lexington County to slow growth through zoning changes and other methods. This group also has other plans that include an impact fee of sorts that would help pay for the services that the new residents need and desire. They quickly point out that the taxes on a new home come nowhere close to supporting any of the government services they receive. One recently said as soon as his last child graduates from Lexington One, he plans to sell his home and move just a few feet into another county where his taxes will be dramatically less.

No matter which side of this issue you fall on, more schools will be built. The new families will continue to come and with them their children. School districts can borrow up to 8% of the total assessed value of all the property within their boundaries without voter approval. They will have to find some way to accommodate these new children and that type of borrowing that's slower, may have to be the answer if the referendum fails. The major problem with that is that owner occupied homes get a major tax roll-back in that method that businesses don't. That means that small businesses will be forced to shoulder the entire load of that debt.

Before going to the polls tomorrow, everyone should take the time to familiarize themselves with the needs, the plan to fulfill those needs, and even why people are saying vote no flat out or come back in the future with a revised plan that is more affordable and includes only what’s absolutely necessary. That option would not be available until 2020.

There are several web presences where you can educate yourself about why some are saying vote no, and others yes. You owe it to yourself and your children to look at both sides, weed out any uneducated rantings on the no side, and what sometimes seems like educated babble that’s intended to baffle you with huge numbers, graphs, and charts on the yes side, and then vote what you think is right tomorrow. No matter how you vote, vote educated, vote your conscience, just vote.

Lexington School District One’s page on the growth plan: Click Here

The Every1Wins Facebook page: Click Here

Citizens Against the Bond Referendum on Facebook: Click Here

Save Our Schools by Voting NO website: Click Here

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