In a workshop Wednesday at the district office, school board members approved moving forward with a referendum not to exceed $177 million and approved allowing Superintendent Joe Pye to form a nonprofit committee charged with campaigning the referendum before the November general election.
"We had a list that could have been $400 or $500 million ... these are catch-up items," Pye said. "We have done without for a very long time and we're first in line."
The meeting came just days after the school board presented a $148 million expenditure budget, adding less than $5 million over the previous year. The school board will present the budget to Dorchester County Council 7 p.m. Monday at the Summerville chambers. See the budget presented earlier this week in the documents attached to this story.
The school board sought a $192 million referendum but failed to appeal to voters in the off-year 2007 election. With more than $240 million in facility needs identified last year, the school board whittled away at needs to get the figure under $200 million — to appeal to voters.
"I know we can do it. Last time, we just didn't sell it right," Pye said.
Wednesday's meeting identified four "options" to keep the referendum under $200 million, but as members discussed the district's needs and taxpayers' wallets, they decided to keep the figure between $175 and $185 million.
According to district Chief Financial Officer Allyson Duke, a referendum between that amount would create an increase of $84 on a $100,000 house and $25 on a $20,000 car in the county.
The option that was the second lowest at $177 million includes building three new elementary schools, a new middle school for the arts, renovations to all three high schools, and investments in security, bathrooms and wireless in all schools.
According to school boardmember Barbara Crosby, the option gives something to everyone. Pye said the three new elementary schools will greatly unburden already burdened schools like Eagle Nest Elementary.
Voters will also have the option to vote for three add-ons to the referendum, if the school board moves forward. Funding a community pool, library and expanding the auditorium at Rollings Middle will be an option voters can choose in November — adding to the pricetag about $20 million.
The district does not have to turn in its ballot for the referendum until August, so changes can still be made, according to school board member Frances Townsend.
One change could be districts like Dorchester County School District Two being allowed to have a one-cent sales tax this year. However, this is contingent upon Berkeley County School District successfully getting this type of tax, according to Pye.
"We could ride their coattails," Pye said.
If that happens, the district could ask for $100 million for one-cent sales tax referendum, and less than $80 million for a referendum — only raising mill rates slightly so a $100,000 home pays an extra $25.
Here are the identified improvements and projects, with rounded figures, under the $177 million price tag:
- Three 1,000-student elementary schools at $22.3 million each, for a total of $66.8 million
- A 750-student middle school of arts for $28.2 million
- A new multipurpose room and cafeteria expansion for Flowertown Elementary for $4 million
- A new multipurpose room for Newington Elementary for $2.6 million
- A new multipurpose room for Oakbrook Elementary for $2.4 million
- A new multipurpose room for Summerville Elementary for $2.7 million
- Classroom additions for Eagle Nest Elementary for $3.2 million
- Classroom additions for Oakbrook Middle for $3.9 million
- New related arts wing for Alston Middle for $4.9 million
- New CATE wing and classroom wing at Ashley Ridge High for $12.1 million
- New multipurpose room and classroom wing at Fort Dorchester High for $17.7 million
- New classroom addition, cafeteria expansion, rennovations for CATE and more at Summerville High for $10.6 million
- $4.3 million in improvements to security, bathrooms and more. This sum will also include going wireless at all schools, according to Pye.