Chester Co. voters to decide Tuesday on $116 million school bond two years after failed vote

Updated: Feb. 3, 2020 at 6:18 PM EST
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CHESTER COUNTY, SC (WBTV) - Just two years after voters in Chester County narrowly struck down a $38 million bond referendum to improve county schools and build a new career center, they’ll head back to the polls Tuesday to decide on the school board’s latest proposed bond referendum.

At $116.5 million, the bond is significantly higher this time around, but also includes more proposed additions and improvements.

Right now along Chester County roadways, there are signs encouraging voters to “Vote Yes” and “Vote No” come Tuesday. It’s been nearly 25 years since voters gave the okay to a district bond referendum.

“Most of our high schools - all of our high schools are declining,” said Dr. Angela Bain, Superintendent for Chester County Schools. “Some are on their last leg if you will, and so is the career center.”

Which is why Dr. Bain and other district officials say their $116.5 million plan tackles building a new Chester High School and Career Center, as well as, improvements to the other high schools in the district.

“Our career center can be instrumental in helping to develop our workforce for the future, and so Chester County has to keep up. The education system has to keep up,” added Bain.

But some district parents, like Kena Funderburk who is a life-long Chester County resident who currently has three children in the school system and another who will enter the district soon, says she has her concerns about the plan.

“For example, Chester High School - they have a very nice stadium,” said Funderburk. “In the new bond referendum, they’re going to rebuild that stadium, and that is not necessary. There’s a lot of athletic improvements that are wants versus needs,” she added.

That new stadium complex is estimated to cost more than $9 million. On its website, the district says it needs to build the new stadium because Chester High School would be built at a new location off of SC-9 and that would keep students from having to travel off of the campus. The stadium would also include a District Track.

“Currently, there is not a regulation track in all of Chester County for our students to practice on or use for competitions,” the district has said.

Funderburk expressed concerns with the district relocating Chester High School from its current location to the proposed site off of SC-9. The site is the same site that was proposed for the new career center in the 2018 bond referendum and would cost the district $15,000 per acre.

When asked about why the high school would be moved to the new location, district officials say there is, “currently not enough land at the current site to construct and include all of the proposed additions that the future site would hold.”

Another concern for Funderburk, the more than $12 million proposed performing arts center.

“My children go to the schools, and I see where the funding is cut,” said Funderburk. “I do not believe they will be able to fund additional programs to use the facilities that they’re planning on building.”

Funderburk says she believes the money could be used toward other needs within the district.

“I don’t think the bond referendum failing means the voters are saying, ‘No’,” said Funderburk. “We’re saying come back with a plan. Take away the excessive spending. Take away the performing arts center. That’s $12.3 million that could be going to something else.”

District officials maintain they believe the center could act as a recruitment tool for people looking to move to Chester.

“They’re going to want opportunities for their children, so they can come here and work here, and that just improves our economy,” Dr. Brain said.

Funderburk says, ultimately, she’s for the district’s safety and school improvements, but believes the current plan shouldn’t pass the way it is.

“Scale back on the wants, put the needs forward and I think it will pass,” said Funderburk, who expressed concerns about her children and potentially, future grandchildren, paying the added taxes for the bond.

Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, school officials say they feel they’ve prioritized the district’s needs.

“We want the best thing for all of our children in Chester County and that’s why we’re trying to do this,” said Dr. Bain.

If the referendum were to pass, taxpayers won’t see an increase in the first year of the bond, but as the money is used by the district, taxes will increase to reflect that. If you’d like to learn more, the district has posted a chart on its website.

Polls will be open Tuesday in Chester County from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Voters in Fort Lawn will also take part in a special election for town council.

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