Dr. Peters addresses bond referendum at forum

Dr. Peters lays out case for District 55’s $109 million bond referendum,
fields questions
Next forum scheduled for Monday

Forum-1 w:story

By Daniel J. Lauer
For the Advertiser
Laurens County School District 55 Superintendent Dr. Stephen Peters faced a
capacity crowd Tuesday evening in the Hickory Tavern School auditorium
during the first of four scheduled community forums concerning an upcoming
$109 million bond referendum for the construction of a new consolidated high
school.
The District 55 Board of Trustees approved the resolution at its Jan. 23
meeting, voting to put the issue of $109 million in general-obligation bonds
before voters in a May 9 referendum.
“Obviously, that decision was not made lightly and it was the product of a
thorough analysis of the existing district infrastructure,” Peters told the
crowd. “Thank you for taking time out of your schedules to join us this
evening. The turnout tonight symbolizes that we are all here for the
betterment of our school district and our children.”
No land has been identified or purchased, Peters said, putting to rest a
rumor that District 55 was already moving forward on the site for a new high
school. He added, though, that administrators are interested in plots of
land near the present high school campus.
“We couldn’t purchase it because we don’t have the money,” Peters said,
adding that administrators have heard the community’s resistance to locating
a new high school in the industrial park. Additionally, he told those
gathered at the forum that the district would identify the land prior to the
May 9 referendum date so “you have that information before you cast that
vote.”
Peters said that the request was made for the $109 million bond because the
current high school, which was built in 1972 and is 45 years old, is
“busting at the seams” with 1,600 students. Some teachers who don’t have
their own classroom have to cart their materials from room to room, he
explained, or are accepting jobs at other school districts.
The $109 million figure includes the purchase of land, the cost of an
architect and improvements to other District 55 schools. Gray Court needs a
gymnasium and Ford Elementary is at capacity and needs some kind of
expansion, while Sanders Middle School just had a pipe burst in a brick
wall, Peters noted.
“We have other schools around the district that need attention,” he said.
“We are hoping to be able to address those issues with the same pot of
money.”
Many in the audience expressed concern about the cost, noting that some are
on fixed incomes or don’t have children in the school system. A property
valued at $50,000, Peters said, would see an increase of $121 per year in
taxes.
“If we bond $109 million at one time, you are the ones responsible for
paying it back,” State Rep. Mike Pitts told the crowd. “The bonding
indebtedness will come on the backs of property owners ­ boats, cars, no
matter what you pay property tax on.”
Laurens County Council Chairman Joe Wood also expressed his concern for the
county’s taxpayers and asked District 55 officials for more realistic
figures.
Peters addressed another proposal meeting resistance ­ the consolidation of
the current middle schools at the current high school after the completion
of a new high school. He explained that currently Hickory Tavern is the only
middle school that has science labs.
Consolidating the middle schoolers at the present high school would provide
increased opportunities, Peters said, including access to labs, and the
ability to offer an expanded fine arts curriculum ­ band, art, music,
chorus, orchestra and strings ­ every day. Currently, teachers cycle between
the middle schools to offer those classes.
While the current high school is at capacity with 1,600 students, a
consolidated middle school at that location would only have around 1,000
students, he said, allowing plenty of room for a growing student body.
Following Peters’ opening statements, he read questions from cards that the
audience had filled out and submitted. Those questions, and those from
future forums, will be compiled into a Frequently Asked Questions and Answer
page, which should be active by Tuesday on District 55’s website,
www.laurens55.org.
Several questions dealt with the cost of the proposed bond, as well as the
timing of the project. Peters said that he is “trying to prevent a
reactionary mode,” as the cost of materials will increase the longer the
district delays construction.
“Many builders say five years from now, a new building might be out of
reach,” Peters added.
Peters said he was encouraged by Tuesday’s meeting, even though the audience
at times got heated. Deputies were on hand due to the size of the crowd and
at least once had to step in and quiet a vocal questioner. Peters said he
appreciated all of the comments but added that “we can’t make forward
progress with personal attacks.”
“I had to remind myself that I was going into this to fight for what I think
our students deserve and fight for what we as a school district need,”
Peters said Wednesday afternoon from his district office. “We have some
great people in Laurens County and we all love our children.”
Three additional forums are scheduled for this month ­ Monday, Feb. 13, in
the Gray Court-Owings auditorium, Monday, Feb. 20, in the Sanders auditorium
and Tuesday, Feb. 28, in the Laurens District High School lecture theater.
Each of the forums begins at 6 p.m.

 

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