Florence district one school board delays vote on $266 million bond referendum

Wilson High School is one of three high schools in Florence Public School District One (Tonya Brown/WPDE)

Florence District One school board members didn't take any action Thursday on whether to approve a resolution for a $266 million bond referendum to build more schools and renovate others.

The board was expected to vote on the resolution but instead discussed the facilities plan.

Some on the board seemed to have mixed feelings about the plan after Florence Mayor Stephen Wukela voiced his concerns.

Wukela said he’s not against building more schools but questions what the district’s done in the past.

He added the board seems to favor the west side of the community.

The seven new schools built in recent years six have been in West Florence, Wukela said.

The five-phase plan includes building a New West Florence High School and renovating several elementary schools. It would delay middle school reconfiguration until 2020 or 2021.

Under the proposed plan, Williams Middle School and Savannah Grove Elementary would be rebuilt. District officials said rebuilding Williams would cost a over $32.7 million, Savannah Grove $22.2 million.

Briggs Elementary would see a $16.6 million rebuild. Timrod Elementary and Wallace Gregg would be combined and rebuilt for $22.3 million.

West Florence High School, where the district said there is no room to expand, would be rebuilt for $88 million.

South Florence High School would receive a $15 million renovation and Wilson High School would get a $17 million dollar renovation.

Another phase of the plan focuses on renovating other middle and elementary schools.

Carter Elementary, McLaurin Elementary, Greenwood Elementary, Lester Elementary, Sneed Middle and Carver Elementary would all receive renovations around $5 to $7 million.

The Career Center, Rush, and Child Development Center would all also be renovated.

The district also plans to set aside $2.5 million for technology, which would give each student their own digital device.

There would be a tax increase from about 32 mills to 77 mills. That means, for every $100,000 your home is worth, your property taxes would increase about $180 a year. If you own a car worth $10,000, you would pay $27 more a year in taxes.

Florence School Board Chairman Barry Townsend released the following statement Thursday afternoon shortly before the school board meeting:

My name is Barry Townsend, and I’m the chairman of the Florence School District One Board of Trustees. However, this statement is mine alone and is not being made in my role as the spokesperson for the board.
Rather than focusing on the input from our community to improve our proposed Facilities Update Plan, I nd myself elding requests that I respond to statements made in the media, and o the record, by local leaders. The mayor in particular seems to be more concerned with debating the past than addressing our current student’s needs. But this isn't a political campaign and the school board isn't his opponent, nor should he be ours.
The fact is that we have facilities and technology needs throughout the district. That is not up for debate. But the mayor would rather stall progress for all our students arguing over which school is in worse shape, when all of our schools will bene t from this plan now, not 20 years from now.
He has decided to single out one school in particular: West Florence High School. I was told yesterday that, based on early enrollment numbers, we may have an additional 100 students in West Florence this year, which would put the school 400 students over capacity. The mayor states that the west has received preferential treatment in the past, and perhaps it has, but in retaliation he proposes that we ignore the dangerous situation at WF and do the same thing that he accuses past school boards of doing, bypassing schools in need and giving preferential treatment to others. But the students in our schools played no part in the choices—good or bad —made in the past, and continuing to pit the north, south, east and west against one another for political purposes only widens the divide in Florence.
If the mayor—whom I sought out and met with twice—or any other local leader wants to have a serious discussion about meeting all our student's needs today, I am now and have always been willing. However, I refuse to continue to be baited into the same type of argument that caused these disparities to begin with and allow myself to be distracted from what I was elected to do: ght for what’s best for every student, in every school. in every community as chairman of the Board of all of Florence School District One.
Until the Mayor realizes he is the Mayor of all of Florence, not just two blocks in downtown Florence, I fear his sniping from afar will only reinforce the divisions that have separated our city for too long. Or even worse, serve as a unilateral veto to a plan that bene ts all of our students, schools and communities. Our children deserve better than to inherit our problems. Fortunately, when this question is nally put to a vote, every citizen’s vote will be equal to his or mine, and the fates of our students and the schools they attend will be in your hands.
Until then, I’m going to do my best to keep the board focused on what you elected us to do, ensuring all of our students get the education they deserve, in schools with technology that prepares them for the demands of the 21st century, no matter where they live or attend school in FSD1.
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