Chester County Schools $263 million bond referendum fails, district eyeing fourth referendum vote

The money would go toward building two new high schools and upgrading facilities.
The $263 million project was set to fund multiple high schools and upgrades to athletic facilities and schools in the Great Falls community.
Published: May. 13, 2022 at 6:43 PM EDT
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CHESTER COUNTY, S.C. (WBTV) - Once again, the Chester County Schools bond referendum failed.

The $263 million project was set to fund multiple high schools and upgrades to athletic facilities and schools in the Great Falls community. But, because the bond did not pass for this third time—the district is now looking at other ways it could fund projects.

Dr. Antwon Sutton is being frank about the situation. ”The biggest thing that hurts some to an extent is that our children are still at the brunt of this, suffering because of this.”

He says it is that very reason—that the kids are suffering—as to why the district isn’t going to give up the fight. He says even if voters think it is a waste of time to try for another bond, he feels confident it is not.

”We can’t stop. As educators we’re resilient. We’re going to devise a plan the best way we can to upgrade our facilities. We’re not going to give up on that,” says Sutton.

The district says a possible fourth bond referendum could happen as early as November. However, there is also a possibility the district waits a few years as it did after the 2020 bond failed.

”We’ll regroup and try try again like the little engine that could,” he explains.

If that fails, Sutton says the district will have to then move on and find another plan. According to Sutton, there are only two other ways to get this multi-million dollar project going—a wealthy benefactor or using the taxes they already get.

The tax option is called an eight percent debt capacity. It would only bring in $6 million a year, and could take more than 40 years to get everything fixed. The 40 years number comes from the amount of money they get per year with $6 million, and the cost of the projects the district wants to complete is $263 million.

”It’s gonna take us 20, 30 years to do them all but again if that’s the only option that’s what we have to do,” he says.

Sutton says the team is focused on a fourth bond referendum and will discuss scheduling it during the next board meeting.

Saturday was a big day for the Chester County School district.

For the third time in four years, the district asked voters to vote on a $263 million school bond referendum. The bond comes with a tax increase that some voters are not too keen on.

Chester County Schools tried to get a bond passed in 2018. It failed. The district tried again in 2020. It failed again. Now, the district is hoping the third time is the charm.

This bond is jam-packed with projects the school district says are necessary. The biggest ones would be two new high schools for the Chester and Lewisville communities. The Great Falls area would see upgrades to all the schools. A new Chester County career center and athletic upgrades are also on the list.

There were two questions on the ballot. The first asks about all the facility construction. The second asks specifically about athletic upgrades. The first question can pass on its own, but the second question requires the first to pass for it to succeed as well. Some of the students hope it gets passed.

”It feels gross because it’s just old and really rundown,” Chester High student Jamie Ochoa said.

Students come face-to-face with the problems of the aging building every day.

”The other day they actually had to fix the toilets because it’s rusted and when you flushed the urinal water would shoot out of it,” Ja’Den Stringfellow, another student at Chester High, said.

The building is 50 years old. It’s old enough for Stringfellow to walk the same halls his family walked decades ago.

”My mom went to this school,” he said. “My grandma didn’t go to this school but she saw it being built and she got her first teaching job at this school, and so it’s like the needs for the students are much higher than the school can provide for us at this point.”

That exact reason has Superintendent Antwon Sutton hoping this third bond attempt can be the ticket.

”We’re at a point now where we are pouring in so many funds, taxpayer dollars into keeping these schools in operation,” Sutton said. “Plumbing issues, mechanical issues, lighting issues, technology issues. We’re placing band-aids on things right now.”

Sutton said the biggest issue is safety. Anyone can walk into the schools and have access to students.

”I just ask everyone to vote their conscience,” he said. “Think about what’s best for the students, faculty and staff members that are in these schools.”

Some of those voters have already made their minds up to vote no. The tax hike the bond would create, they say, is not appealing.

”Not that we don’t want to invest in our children but it just costs too much,” one parent and voter said. “I think it would have a big impact on the businesses the small businesses so it’s not just what will affect the folks on the individual tax bills.”

A household worth $100,000 is projected to pay about $406 more per year. But Sutton says the taxes will go up gradually, as the district borrows more money and the burden shrinks as more people move to the area.

”I just hope something can change because other generations, they don’t deserve this,” Stringfellow said.

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