Op-ed: Group leader urges yes vote ‘for Rock Hill’s children’

By now, all have seen the hundreds of bold red-and-white “Vote Yes!” signs strategically planted throughout our community by volunteers supporting our public schools. Despite the prominence of the logo, we still get asked daily, “What’s that about?”

As a parent and volunteer, I’m writing to help you understand why it is in your best interest to vote on Tuesday and to vote yes. The vote is about our children and the continuing vitality of our community.

About 15 years ago, at the request of the Rock Hill school board, senior staff of the school district began a master facilities plan to articulate the physical needs of the district’s 41 sites. With 28 campuses and almost 200 buildings, the district owns over half a billion dollars of diverse (and aging) real estate, over 3.5 million square feet of building space. We have schools that were built in the ’40s and two of our three high schools (Rock Hill and Northwestern) were built in the ’70s.

Three years ago, with the needs of the district in hand, a group of 16 stakeholders – real estate professionals, parents, planners and teachers – were assembled to discuss what to do next. This group met regularly, visited sites, debated population studies, and eventually prioritized the many needs of the district into 51 critical projects. The projects were presented to the school board in January of this year and are the subject of the referendum on Tuesday.

The referendum, in effect voting to refinance the district’s paid-down mortgage, needs your approval to let the district issue $110 million in bonds, or debt. While this issue doesn’t raise your taxes -- that’s a fact, not a promise -- the law does not allow schools to just go borrow money when it feels like it.

Rightly, taxpayer approval is required. The “Vote Yes! for Our Children” campaign is about educating voters on the necessity of these funds. Approval on Tuesday will allow the district to borrow money, as needed, over five years to complete at least 51 projects focused on the responsible stewardship of our district facilities. Expenses of the referendum campaign are being paid by interested businesses and individuals.

A lot has changed since many of these schools were built. If you visit us on Facebook (Vote Yes for Our Children) or go to our website (www.voteyesforourchildren.org), you will see that half of the proceeds raised from this referendum will be directed to the renovation and modernization of existing buildings. The $110 million offering facilitates such improvements as windows, ceilings, plumbing, and flooring systems to the two older high schools, as well as Rawlinson Road and Sullivan Middle schools. Also, many of the renovation dollars will help the buildings better use existing space by relatively minor renovations to their “core,” or common areas, including cafeterias.

Something else that has changed is the very real, and ugly, physical threats to our students. Most of our campuses were built in a different age, and are open and trusting While we can’t make our schools 100 percent impenetrable, we can install fences and technology, and reconfigure designs to help protect our children and teachers.

These are just a few examples of the benefits of this referendum. I didn’t mention replacing 60-year-old plumbing, old activity buses, the buildings that need to be re-roofed, or fixing busted window seals. But, as you can see for yourself by studying the information available, every school in the district benefits from approval of this referendum. Ask your child’s principal how your school benefits.

It should be noted that the district staff does an excellent job of maintaining our facilities. They are recognized for the outstanding care they take of our assets.

Another important point that voters need to understand is that 88 percent of the Rock Hill school district’s operating budget is committed where we want it – to people helping children learn. Necessarily, the operating budget cannot include the cost of major maintenance items.

Just as we must make repairs to our own homes over the years, the school district has to care for its facilities, our facilities, where 17,000 children regularly run and play. Please make it a priority to vote “yes” on Tuesday at your regular polling place, open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Todd Lumpkin is chairman of Rock Hill Citizens for Children.