The Greenville Plan -- What Happened, What Next
by Alex Saitta
February 6, 2007
I'm glad our school buildings will be renovated. Some of our schools are in terrible condition. I opposed the excessiveness of this plan, though. Since I’ve been on the board, the “need” grew from $158 million to a final figure of $336 million. The Easley library cost about $10 million, so this school buildings plan is equivalent to building 33 Easley libraries. The $336 million plan will add 39-mils to property taxes.
A new high school will not educate our children any better than a renovated one. That extra money could have been used to better educate our children.
Also, as a former bond analyst, bond deals take weeks and months to put together. It appears to me, what was going on was withheld from the public until after the election. Then this bombshell was dropped on the public the day before Thanksgiving break, and approved the following Monday. I support Larry Martin’s 3-readings legislation. It’ll help protect the people in the future by forcing the board leadership to be more above board on such things.
Mainly, I object to the borrowing scheme, which was designed to circumvent the Constitution and take away the people's right to vote on all this debt. The Constitution specifies, if the “school board” wants to borrow all this money, the voters must approve it. To get around the Constitution, the school board created a dummy company which borrowed the money on behalf of the board. This allowed the school board to say to the judge, we didn't borrow the $336 million -- look, it is not on our books. Therefore, the board isn’t required to let the people vote on it.
Lawyers know where the law is, and where it is not, so they designed a scheme that lies just beyond the edge of the law. Even though the school board/ taxpayers are still required to pay-back the $336 million, the courts adhered to the literal meaning of “if the school board borrows”, and that Constitutional clause couldn’t be used to stop this scheme. This scheme was outlawed on January 1.
To those who support this, I ask, do you understand what you support? Most do not. Above I explained why the dummy company was created. The dummy company has no money; can you describe the scheme that is used to fund their bond payments? The dummy company has no assets; can you explain how it acquired the collateral needed to borrow the $336 million?
The facts are the facts. The school board didn’t serve the public on this one; they victimized them. I’ll never get over what the majority on the school board did to their fellow residents, but we have to accept it and move on to the issues at hand.
First, we have to make sure the money isn’t wasted, and it is spent on the kids. That won’t be easy, though. For example, the board borrowed $336 million, and it cost $2.6 million in fees for the bond lawyers, analysts and the bond issuer. Instead of making the annual payment in cash, the school board borrows again each year to make the payments. That will cost an extra $9 million in interest over the 25 year loan, and ring-up another $4 million in fees. That $13 million was wasted in my book, and was better off spent in the classroom, on the kids.
Greenville just built 10 high schools, and they are on between 45 to 70 acres. Why are we looking for 100 acre tracts? Let’s focus on what the students need, not what administrators want.
We also must make sure the architects, engineers and contractors don’t take us for a ride. I suggest we assemble a group of retired architects, engineers and contractors who live in the county and ask them to advise us.
Second, where should the new Pickens High be built? The high school generates commerce for local business, so I think it should be built close to the city. What do you think? We plan to have a town hall meeting in Pickens, to get your input on that.
Third, we have to keep in mind here, the goal is to improve the education of the students. The past two years parents, seniors, local business and the typical taxpayer have given the school district a 40% increase in classroom supplies, extra pay increases, the money for new computer technology, and more. Soon they’ll start paying-off $336 worth of new buildings. In return, the district must deliver educational gains, beit in higher graduation rates and test scores. Per pupil investment has risen 59% in ten years, but SAT scores rose only 2 points and the graduation rate has declined. We don’t want to repeat that the next ten years.
It may require making sure each teacher is actually teaching the curriculum standards for her grade or eliminating some of the things teachers are asked to do today, that have nothing to do with educating the student. It may mean better working with parents to make sure they are also on the education team. It may require seriously addressing the rising behavorial problems in our schools. I’m not sure.
What I do know is, we have talented teachers, and the school district was given the money it asked for. District leadership now needs to turn the management of the system up a notch, in order to transform this huge financial investment into improved education for our children.