School Board greenlights two-part, $65 million referendum


By TONY BAUGHMAN

Voters in Lexington County School District Three will be asked to consider not just one but two separate bond referendum questions totaling $65 million in this November’s general election.

The Lexington Three School Board of Trustees unanimously approved an eight-page resolution Tuesday night authorizing a $50 million school bond referendum to pay for construction projects at Batesburg-Leesville High School, Batesburg-Leesville Primary and Batesburg-Leesville Elementary. That construction plan can be accomplished without a property tax increase for school district residents in Lexington County and a portion of Saluda County, according to consultants from the DSG Group.

“There are very few school districts that can say that,” said attorney Francenia Heizer of Burr & Forman, a Columbia law firm contracted to draft the bond referendum questions presented to the School Board. “So, y’all have waited a long time to be able to offer this type of program improvement to your citizens, your taxpayers, your schools, all of your children basically.”

The second bond question – which may be enacted only if the first question passes – will ask voters to approve an additional $15 million in general obligation bonds for construction of a new media center at Batesburg-Leesville Primary and a new competition gymnasium at Batesburg-Leesville High. The additional $15 million would require a tax increase, Ms. Heizer said.

“So, you’ve got to sort of get through your meat, vegetables and potatoes before you can get to the projects that – although they are important and clearly essential in a holistic sense – some may not consider them quite as essential,” she told the School Board.

The centerpiece $50 million referendum question would include construction of a building addition at the high school featuring a new entry canopy and secured entrance, a new media center, new band and chorus rooms and a new administrative area. A new Career and Technology wing also would be built, connected safely to the high school, with instructional areas for technology/engineering programs, health sciences and other trades.

Other improvements at the high school would include expansion of the existing cafeteria, replacement of roofing and heating/air (HVAC) systems, LED lighting, improved security and a new band practice field.

The $50 million referendum plan also includes constructing and equipping a new cafeteria/kitchen at the primary school, improvements to the media center, new flooring and ceilings, and repurposing existing instructional space and guidance areas for primary school classroom expansion, plus new roofing and HVAC at the elementary school.

Board member Sonya Cary expressed concern about offering the second referendum question – and the necessary property tax increase – to voters in the coming election cycle. She asked the School Board to consider separating the two referendum questions into two different Board votes and suggested that she would vote against approving the second question.

“I think right now is such a difficult time for our community with the issues we have because of COVID,” she said. “So many people have been out of work. I think I would feel more comfortable voting knowing that I was going to be for one as opposed to the other.”

However, the Board moved ahead with approving the two questions as a package, leaving the electorate to make the final decision for themselves whether to support one question, both questions or neither question in the November 3 general election.

“The second question will be very clearly set out on the ballot, and I’m sure will be very clearly set out in your educational material,” Ms. Heizer said. “Because Question 1 is no tax increase; Question 2 does call for tax increase – and so that’s where your public, folks who are voting, would have total opportunity to understand what the difference is between the two questions.”

Board member Frances Bouknight agreed with Mrs. Cary’s concerns about offering a $65 million, two-question package to voters during “a difficult time.”

“I know there are many people who have lost jobs, have been laid off, furloughed and all,” she said. “So, I know this is a very difficult time, and that’s why I would want to provide that detailed information about the tax increase with Question 2.”

However, both she and Mrs. Cary ended up voting for the two-question referendum resolution.

The referendum questions now must be submitted to the state Election Commission by Aug. 15 to be included on the November ballot. The new two-question referendum will come exactly two years after voters in Lexington Three rejected a $90 million school bond referendum in 2018 by an almost 2-to-1 margin.

In other action Tuesday night, the Lexington Three School Board approved administrative rules governing remote instruction and virtual Board meetings during the current pandemic.