The Orangeburg Consolidated School District Five Board of Trustees wants the people of Greater Orangeburg to know it believes school facilities improvements are needed.
District spokesman Bill Clark said trustees have been working on a plan to upgrade and modernize the district’s facilities for more than a year. Many of the schools, especially the elementary schools, are more than 50 years old and lack the basic infrastructure needed to support today’s technology and emphasis on STEM instruction, he said.
“At the same time, our older facilities have also become costly and inefficient to maintain. We have engaged an architect and a financial planner to assist us with developing a plan to upgrade our schools and give our students all of the advantages that are present in other areas of the state,” Clark said.
“The construction of new school facilities and modernizing of existing school facilities is an expensive undertaking, but one that is necessary to make our schools and students competitive,” he said.
With that, the trustees have thrown down a challenge to those governing a consolidated countywide school district, which would become reality in 2019 if legislation previously approved by the General Assembly but vetoed by Gov. Henry McMaster receives the OK. As much as the governor said he approves of the consolidation but believes the bill includes an unconstitutional provision on governance during the transition period to 2019, it appears moving forward is now a matter of the Legislature overriding the veto or the bill being revised and moving through the approval again come 2018.
With their days as a board numbered, the District Five trustees surprised many when recently they called a special meeting to consider a $160 million borrowing package that would be aimed at school improvements. To issue bonds for such an amount, voter approval via referendum would be required.
While discussion of the issue was conducted largely behind closed doors with legal counsel, the trustees took action in a subsequent open session to remove from consideration a resolution ordering a bond referendum.
Though it is possible that district voters would have approved the plan and obligated the new countywide district to at least a portion of the present board’s plans, plotting such a course would have been putting an unneeded burden on new trustees. The countywide board should be the body to make decisions on school facilities.
Clark said after the vote: It “appears it may not be the appropriate time to consider a bond referendum. Instead, it is now the position of the board of trustees that we should place our faith and trust in a new consolidated school board to address these facility issues as a priority upon their election. This will allow the new consolidated school board the flexibility to address the needs of our students within the larger context of a consolidated school district.
“This decision is made in the spirit of cooperation and commitment to make the consolidation process successful for all involved.”
The Consolidated Five board is due credit for a wise decision.