WINNSBORO — Normally outspoken school board critic Thomas Armstrong voiced support at the April meeting of the Fairfield County School Board not only for the administration but for the board’s decision to raise millage rates to fund a new career center.
This change of tone reflected some of the ideals Superintendent J.R. Green spoke of last fall when he mentioned that he might not always make the most popular decision but that he would make the best decision possible for the majority of the students in the school district.
Why is a new Career Center needed? Green’s answer is simple:
“People ask if now is the time to fund a new career center. My question to them is this: The district has been talking about doing this for 10 years. If it has not been the right time over 10 years, then what is the right time?”
In 1968, the district had multiple high schools so it made sense to bus students to a central location.
“It really makes no sense for a district with a single high school and single middle school to have a career center located three to four miles away because that is a huge impediment to education,” he said.
Green said the cost incurred to move students back and forth, sometimes several times a day, is one issue prompting the new building to be located next to the high school and middle school. There will be savings in fuel costs and manpower since the district would not be running buses all day long, although Green said the specific amounts of savings are still being calculated.
“Engineer and Technical Science Courses will be offered at the Career Center eventually as part of the STEMS initiative with a ‘projects lead the way course,’” Green said.
When people look at the career center in the past and see more students using it 20 years ago, Green said that in part was due to the student population being larger overall with FCHS as a AAAA school then and a AA school now. If usage is viewed percentage wise, there is less likely to be such a perceived difference by Green’s estimation.
Green views this career center in particular and education in general as an investment.
“We can invest now or pay significantly more later,” he said. “Our goal is to help with early intervention so that the quality of life improves and we produce productive taxpaying citizens. I am very pleased the board finally made the unanimous decision o move forward. This is a prudent decision that will pay tremendous dividends.”
He said if more people possess the skills to be gainfully employed, then there will be less crime, less people needing to be on housing subsidies or food stamps, and less people being incarcerated at (an estimated $32,0000 per year, according to Green).
The new facility, according to Green, will improve the likelihood that the district can prepare its students for careers. The school board will tour other districts to compare those districts offerings and see what can be done in Fairfield County to prepare students to enter the workforce after high school graduation.
“Realistically we are helping them assess what will be in their future,” he said.
Part of that process will be the establishment of a fluid structure to give the student ability to choose a tract and then maximize opportunities for success and for earning a living wage through gainful employment.
One question that has been asked is how the school board can issue bonds without a public referendum.
Green said Bond Attorney Brent Jeffcoat with Pope Zeigler firm informed the board that if mils are issued in an amount greater than the 8 percent limit for debt millage bonds then a referendum would be needed. That kind of bond levy is different from a bond levy for operational expenses because that bond levy for operational expenses would be subject to county council approval.
“We will consult with expert bond attorneys moving forward (as we have throughout the process),” Green said. “This is very comprehensive guidance in what we are doing in the district.”
By keeping the bonded debt limit below 8 percent, Green said they are helping save the county an added expenditure of the referendum. Debbie Stidham with the Fairfield County Elections Commission said the approximate cost to hold a special bond referendum is $23,000.
According to the Fairfield County Tax Assessor’s office, on a $100,000 home where the owner is the legal resident, meaning the primary property owner, the current tax millage means he or she pays $39.60 in taxes that are issued by the school district. Those taxes are not a person’s entire property tax bill because the county council also levies taxes on property.
On a $100,000 home without legal residence, meaning the owner does not have it as his or her primary home, the current tax bill to fund schools in the county is $59.40.
Under the school board’s plan the 9.9 mils will increase to a total of 34.6 mils for two years. During that two-year period, the tax bill on a $100,000 home with legal residence would increase from $39.60 to $138.40. After those two years, the millage rate goes down to 24 mils meaning the entire amount of taxes paid by the property owner for school funding would decrease to $98.80.
On a $100,000 home without legal residence, the bill goes from $59.40 up to $207.60 for two years. After that period the millage rate would decease to 24 mils and the total would go down to $148.20. The $148.20 will remain in place for the next 10 years, though the district would have the option to reduce that amount once funds from V.C. Summer nuclear plant expansion become available.