Closing Ben Hagood
By Alex Saitta
January 9, 2016
I’m sure most read the article where the school district paid architects $50,000 to study the possible refitting, consolidation or closing of six buildings that included Hagood elementary school, the old Pickens Middle, Northside school in Easley and the district office, BJ Skelton, and the operations buildings.
They came back with three alternatives: Plan A was to do nothing, which had a $5 million price tag. Plan B was to close Hagood and renovate it, plus do some new construction at BJ Skelton. Various district administrative functions would then be moved into those two buildings. The total cost of Plan B is $15 million. Plan C was to close Hagood and renovate it, plus renovate the old Pickens Middle at a total cost of $22 million. All district administration functions would be moved into those two buildings.
There are two key aspects here, closing Ben Hagood and more building renovations and new construction. I oppose both of these things for a variety of reasons.
The administration and board majority have been moving in the direction of larger class sizes and larger schools. A bad idea. They eliminated 55 classroom teaching positions the last two years or so. I voted against that. The plan is to eliminate 12 to 18 more teaching positions next year. If they close Hagood, its 300 plus students will be moved to surrounding schools increasing the size of those schools and their class sizes. Another move in the wrong direction. Simply put, I support the principle of smaller class sizes and smaller schools, in order to provide students more personalized instruction with their teachers.
The school district just finished spending $387 million; that is equivalent to building 37 new Easley libraries. We just padi the last bill in September. Enough is enough when it comes to building renovations and new construction.
The district doesn't have the money to maintain its existing buildings [its capital maintenance budget in $2.2 million deficit], much less the money for more new construction/ new renovations plans running in the $15 to $22 million range. It should focus on finding the money to maintain its recent investments and not launch another round of renovation and new construction.
The district doesn’t have any renovation or construction money left. It would have to borrow the $15 to $22 million. The district is still saddled with more than $300 million in construction debt. That is 9 times the legal limit thanks to the Greenville Plan. More debt than the 5 Anderson districts combined. Six times the debt level of Oconee County schools. Our district shouldn’t be borrowing any more money for construction and renovations.
And they’ll have to raise taxes to fund the additional loans. If they funded Plan B over, let’s say, five years that would be a 7 mill property tax increase. Plan C would be a 10 mill increase. School taxes have already risen from 128 to 165 mills due to the building program, putting too much strain on the local economy.
Not only do I oppose what the architects presented, but I opposed paying them $50,000 to do the study in the first place. The last eight years the district paid architects nearly $25 million in fees (enough to build a middle school). Architects make money by charging fees for drawing up plans and if those plans are built, they charge a percentage on the size of the job. The bigger the plans, the more they make. It is not surprising that even their do nothing alternative (Plan A) had a $5 million price tag.
We are a school district, not a construction company. Instead, the district should shift its focus back to educating children, maintaining its existing buildings and work on paying down some of its $300 million in staggering debt.