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Laurens SC School Referendum Raises Questions




Government-run school district leaders in Laurens County, S.C. want to raise property taxes on residents by as much as 17.5 percent to pay for $109 million worth of new school construction and renovations to existing facilities.

To their credit, they are at least putting the question to a vote of the people … something we believe governments at any level should do whenever they intend to reach deeper into our pockets.

The vote – scheduled for September – is being pushed by the leadership of Laurens County school district No. 55, most notably superintendent Stephen Peters.  Assuming the measure passes, it would raise annual property taxes on county residents by anywhere from $40 to $400 depending on the assessed value of a home.

Not surprisingly, the proposal has its detractors …

According to a letter published in last month’s editions of The Laurens County Advertiser, there is concern over whether district leaders are being honest with voters about the referendum’s financial particulars.

There are also concerns that the deal will invite further graft and corruption to a corner of the state that is already notorious for such behavior.

“There have been past construction projects in Laurens County that generated whispers of kickbacks,” Gray Court, S.C. resident Jayhue Weisner wrote to the local paper.  “Money was stolen from a county department and no one was prosecuted.”

A retired dean from a nearby state-run technical college, Weisner added that “Laurens County is not immune to corruption” and that “projects of this nature and amount of money generate opportunities for personal enrichment.”

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We would tend to agree …

Weisner made another more fundamental point, too.

“The fact still remains a new high school will not cure any shortcomings in the quality of our educational system,” he wrote.

That’s true … especially in South Carolina, where the motto of our worst-in-the-nation government school system might as well be “Mo Money, Mo Failure.”

Students in this particular district averaged 1356 on the most recent SAT exam – well below the statewide average of 1446 for students at government-run schools.  Their average ACT score of 16.8 also lagged behind the statewide government-run school average of 18.2.

Nonetheless, not everyone in Laurens is supportive of Weisner’s particular brand of taxpayer advocacy – even if they support his position.

One reformer claimed the ex-bureaucrat had “gotten radical” in his opposition to the measure, and had made a habit of “going off half-cocked” at district meetings.

Having said that, they acknowledged problems with the deal.

“Someone is going to make some good money off of the land purchase,” they told us.  “It’s all very secretive.”

We’ll be sure to keep our eyes on this referendum as its September election date approaches.  At this point, though, it seems clear to us local leaders have considerable work ahead of them when it comes to convincing those who are being asked to pay more in property taxes.



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