Board approves additional $53M for equipment

  • Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Stefan Rogenmoser/Gazette - The Berkeley County School Board meets for a retreat Friday afternoon at the Wampee Conference Center in Pinopolis. Pictured at conference table, clockwise from center: Superintendent Rodney Thompson, board members Scott Marino, Sheldon Etheridge, Kathy Schwalbe, Shannon Lee, Kent Murray and Doug Cooper. Pictured in the background at far left are Terry Hardesty and Jim Reuer, attending as members of the public.

 The Berkeley County School board approved a resolution for equipment acquisition at its May 28 meeting in Moncks Corner.
The resolution calls for an additional $53 million in special obligation bonds. That is in addition to the $198 million bond approved by voters in last year’s election.
School board members Frank Wright and Scott Marino were not present at the meeting and therefore were unable to vote or comment. Board member Sheldon Etheridge made a motion to pass the resolution that was seconded by Doug Cooper. There was no discussion regarding the resolution before a vote was called, which was met with 7-0 approval.
Berkeley County School Superintendent Rodney Thompson told The Independent that the $53 million would be used to equip schools with HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning), technology and kitchen equipment. The district can pay for those projects by selling bonds based on the 8 percent capacity, which is 8 percent of the district’s assessed value, Thompson said.
“We can pay for a portion of those projects and not impact the millage,” Thompson said. “It was something that was always discussed to bring the cost of the project down and work within our existing millage.”
Thompson said the millage will stay within what was advertised for the bond referendum.
The $53 million resolution for equipment was recommended by the bond attorney during the planning process, Thompson said.
“Many districts would use equipment acquisition or performance contracting, which is the same thing,” Thompson said. “We thought it was a good way to meet the needs of our growth without changing the millage on our taxpayers.”
Berkeley County Republican Party Chairman Terry Hardesty, a member of the school board from 2006 to 2010, questioned the board’s decision.
“I don’t recall ever doing that when I was on the school board,” Hardesty said. “It appears to me they passed a $198 million bond referendum and $53 million more. Is there a specific list of equipment? Is this a blanket resolution?”
Hardesty said the fact that there was no discussion by the board before voting to pass the resolution at the May 28 meeting means the board knew about this beforehand or passed it without knowing anything about it.
“Either way is wrong,” Hardesty said. “It appears they had a $250 million bond and whittled it down to $198 million so they could pass it because they knew they could do this. They are creating doubt in the public. It’s not good for the school district, it’s not good for education.
“Sunshine fixes a lot of problems in government.”
Hardesty also questioned the board’s use of executive session.
“Much of the discussion takes place out of the sight of the public,” Hardesty said. “When I was on the board a lot of discussions took place in executive session that should not have.”
Hardesty said he never took part in those discussions but witnessed them.
“Their agendas list all the things they can talk about in executive session but does not mean they are,” he said. “I think that is another way to obscure what they’re doing. I just want them to do the right thing.
“The way they conducted the bond referendum I think was not legal, certainly not ethical. This $53 million is a prime example of that.”

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