Education

Rock Hill schools ask voters to OK $110 million in debt for maintenance, school expansions, new buses, and other improvements

A “Vote Yes” sign for the Rock Hill schools’ bond referendum.
A “Vote Yes” sign for the Rock Hill schools’ bond referendum. aburriss@heraldonline.com

Rock Hill voters will decide next week whether their school system can borrow $110 million over five years to expand cafeterias and classrooms at some schools; fix the roofs, replace doors and make other maintenance improvements at other buildings; buy buses; increase students’ access to technology; and improve security at several campuses.

If voters approve, the money would pay for 51 projects across the district, with every school benefiting from multiple improvements, according to supporters of the bond issue. The projects are part of a districtwide master plan to make all of the city’s schools safe and efficient and to create a better learning environment. The school board approved the plan in February.

The school board has promised voters that if they approve the bond issue, property taxes will not be increased. The board says other debt will be paid off as the new money is borrowed. The plan assumes a steady bond interest rate. If interest rates rise, the schools would likely borrow less.

Todd Lumpkin, chairman of a citizens group pushing for the bond issue, said the proposal represents “good stewardship” for the schools, getting the most improvements for the money invested while upgrading aging schools.

Besides chairing the citizens group – Rock Hill Citizens For Children – Lumpkin also is chairman of the Pathfinders, a group of school and city officials, principals, teachers and residents that developed the master plan.

If voters agree to borrow the money, improvements would fall into six categories:

▪ Safety and energy efficiency

▪ Repairs and replacements

▪ Buses and grounds

▪ Technology

▪ Building renovations

▪ New construction

The 16-person Pathfinder panel met for about three years to identify the school district’s long-term needs and then to develop a list of projects. Lumpkin said the schools have needs beyond the 51 projects being voted on in the referendum, but those were the only ones that could be done without raising taxes.

“These are the things we had to do; there are no beautification projects,” he said.

About 27 percent of the money borrowed – $30 million – would pay for basic upgrades such as new roofs, windows, doors and floors at Northwestern and Rock Hill high schools, Rawlinson Road and Sullivan middle schools and the Applied Technology Center.

About 22 percent, or $24 million, would fund renovations and expansions at several elementary schools, including Belleview, the Children’s School at Sylvia Circle, Ebenezer Avenue, Ebinport, Finley Road, Northside School for the Arts, Oakdale, Richmond Drive, Rosewood, and Sunset Park.

Also included in the $24 million for renovations/expansions are library improvements at Belleview, Finley Road, Independence, Lesslie, Mount Gallant, Northside, Sunset Park and York Road elementary schools.

The bond package also sets aside $15 million for a new elementary school in the Riverwalk area near Intersate 77 and Celanese Road But the school would only be built if the population in that part of the city grows enough during the next five years to warrant its construction.

Other changes to the schools include upgrading restrooms, adding security fencing, and improving traffic patterns for student drop-offs and pick-ups.

The physical changes address many of the chronic problems schools face, particularly the lack of common space. While some Rock Hill schools have classroom space for as many as 600 elementary students, they lack adequately sized common spaces such as auditoriums or cafeterias. Because of small cafeterias, several schools start serving lunch at 10:30 a.m. and don’t finish feeding all their students until 1:30 p.m. Other schools have students eat in their classrooms, including kindergarteners at Rosewood.

Money from the bond also would be set aside for the district’s iRock technology initiative, which seeks to provide iPads or laptop computers to all students in third through 12th grades. The funds would be used to provide laptops to high school students. The iPads currently used in high schools would be given to third-grade students. Students in grades four through eight already have iPads.

Jim Vining, chairman of the Rock Hill school board, said if the referendum does not pass, the needs don’t go away.

“That would make us more vulnerable,” he said, noting that maintenance still needs to be done and any planned construction would likely be more costly.

Although some schools are at or near capacity, rezoning students won’t resolve the maintenance and other issues being addressed in the proposed bond issue, Vining said.

The Rock Hill City Council and the York County Regional Chamber of Commerce have endorsed the referendum.

Paul Anderko of the GPS Conservatives for Action PAC, a local taxpayers organization, said his group has not taken a position on the referendum. He said the group doesn’t have enough information – pro and con – to develop a position.

This will be the Rock Hill school district’s first bond referendum since 2005, when voters approved borrowing $92 million to build two elementary schools and a middle school. The money also paid for capital improvements and maintenance expenses at existing schools.

Don Worthington •  803-329-4066

Public Hearing

A public hearing on the bond referendum will be held at Rock Hill City Hall on Thursday at 7 p.m.

How to vote

All Rock Hill school district precincts will open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on May 5. Absentee votes are now being accepted by the York County voter registration and elections office. Absentee voting by mail ends May 1. In-person absentee voting is open through May 4 at the board’s office, 13 S. Congress St, York. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Information

For more info on the master plan and bond referendum go to: http://www.rock-hill.k12.sc.us/community/2015schoolbondreferendum.aspx

Coming stories

Monday: The plan for replacing activity buses and improving the playgrounds and traffic patterns at schools.

Tuesday: The district’s iRock technology initiative.

Wednesday: Safety and energy improvement at Rock Hill schools.

Thursday: Repairing or replacing roofs, doors, ceilings, floors and out-of-date bathrooms.

Related stories from Rock Hill Herald

  Comments