Lexington One School Board member expresses concern again after latest land buy
Lexington, SC (Paul Kirby) - One member of the Lexington School District One’s Board of Trustees has been questioning the board and how it approves land purchases for years. This issue has been spotlighted by Tuesday night's vote to approve a land purchase off Two Notch Road for a new transportation facility. Jada Garris said Tuesday night during the meeting she just, “wasn't buying it,” referring to her inability to trust district leadership's answers to her questions.
On Tuesday, September the 15th, 2020 the school board voted 4-2 (Garris and Guyton dissenting) to purchase two parcels of land to relocate their existing transportation facility from Barr Road near Lexington to a new property on Two Notch Road closer to Red Bank. The purchase includes two pieces of property. One is approximately 44.27 acres and the other is approximately 2.61 acres. Together they cost $1.5 million or $32,000 per acre.
Garris maintains that the district bought too much land and wasted taxpayer money. She says she’s seen a pattern with the board simply rubber stamping whatever the district offers instead of requiring more information. During the discussion prior to the vote Tuesday night, Garris asked a number of questions about the property. Specifically, she had an issue with the purchase of the smaller, 2.61 acre tract and information contained in the environmental studies on that parcel. She requested clarification about the discrepancies in the studies and noted that from the first report to the second, follow-up report, some items that were seen as red flags had simply disappeared. Garris urged caution due to the problems associated with the adjoining property and its documented contamination.
Garris disagreed that all options had been explored before the district bought the 2.6 acres of land for the second access point or driveway. At one point during the meeting she asked, “Why are we, as a board, spending all of this money on a site that only serves as a driveway?”
She pointed out that the cost of this land is not included in the 2018 bond referendum and the board was originally told that the transportation facility would require 15 to 20 acres of land. According to Garris, it concerned her that District One is now purchasing more than 46 acres. Their current development layout indicates they will be using less than half of the land they’re buying. Garris said that there is an option to subdivide that was never thoroughly considered. This option could have decreased the overall cost of the project according to Garris. Jeff Salters, the district’s chief operations officer, mentioned during the comment and question portion of the voting process that extra acreage could be sold later if it is not needed. In response, Garris reminded the board that the district lost $20,000 an acre when they resold land at New Providence Elementary School. Reselling land at a lower price should concern any taxpayer, according to Garris.
The root of Garris’ dissension is how disconnected the board is with the sanctity of their position. She says she knows that the current way of doing things is antiquated. Currently, district leadership alone decides what property to purchase and what building plans to use. Once properties have been identified and several options for building designs are reviewed, the district’s staff compares each of these against the others. Then they decide what is the best and most cost effective for the district’s use. After this process is complete, they present that single selected property and design to the board of trustees for approval.
Garris believes that the board of trustees should have the opportunity to review all the properties, plans, and figures before voting. Using the current method, the board simply rubber stamps a decision already made by the administrative staff. Garris believes board members should, “trust, but verify”. She says that although other sites are mentioned as possibilities, in the end only one site is presented to the board and that there are no options. Garris said, “The majority of current board members are willfully ignorant of their responsibility to citizens, as can be the case when you spend one million dollars a day, as our district does. However, the reckless use of taxpayer money should not be acceptable, especially in a year as complicated as this one.”
You can see a video of the entire school board meeting where the vote was taken by following this LINK.