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SC School District Slams Citizens For Following The Money

Midlands district blames citizen advocates for “harassing” them with open records requests …

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We’ve written on several prior occasions about the Midlands, South Carolina school district that’s itching to build a brand new elementary school just outside of Chapin, S.C.

To recap: The school being pushed by Lexington-Richland School District 5 is unnecessary, unwanted by the local community and there are serious questions regarding the financials of its impending construction.

Which means it’s pretty much like the vast majority of government-run construction projects in the Palmetto State …

Why is it being built?  Because the district says so, that’s why … even if there is clear and compelling evidence that Lexington-Richland 5’s leaders have an addiction to building new and unnecessary facilities at staggering costs to taxpayers (even though the district’s student population hasn’t grown at all over the past decade).

And is likely to start shrinking this year …

In 2007, Lexington-Richland 5 was home to 16,567 students and operated on a $120.8 million annual budget.  This year, the district has roughly the same number of students (16,822) – yet its annual budget has soared to $181.9 million a year.

For those of you keeping score at home, that’s a 50.5 percent increase in spending against only a 1.5 percent increase in its student population.  In addition to its skyrocketing recurring budgets, the district has also seen its reserve funds soar – from $22.6 million in 2007 to $37.1 million last year (a 64 percent increase).

Unfortunately, these massive investments have failed to improve academic outcomes.  SAT scores are stagnant and ACT scores have declined over the past decade.

Now the district’s student population is projected to take a major dip following the recent shutdown of the nearby V.C. Summer nuclear power station expansion project (a.k.a. #NukeGate), which will result in literally hundreds of families leaving the area.

In fact we were shocked to learn that district officials were proceeding with the proposed school after the shuttering of that plant.

The local market didn’t justify this project before … it sure as hell doesn’t justify it after.

Of course if you want to follow the money in this district, you may be out of luck …

This week, Lexington-Richland District 5 adopted a series of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) policy changes in response to a law passed earlier this year by state legislators.  The district’s new policy imposes fees of up to $0.80 per page, new costs for “staff time” related to the processing of FOIA requests and a requirement that citizens and media outlets pay a “deposit” on these FOIA charges prior to the district accommodating their information requests.

What’s behind these changes?

According to longtime school board member Beth Hutchinson, certain members of the public have been using FOIA to “harass” the district.

Outgoing district superintendent Stephen Hefner concurred, claiming FOIA harassment was a growing problem “all across our country” and part of a “campaign to inundate” public bodies.

Really? 

So let’s get this straight …

A corrupt local government has been lying to citizens and robbing them blind for years, but somehow they’re the victims?  Meanwhile the citizen advocates who have been working tirelessly to bring the truth to light are somehow the enemy?

Sheesh …

To be clear: We don’t have a problem with public bodies assessing reasonable fees on larger, more involved FOIA requests – and insisting on receiving a percentage of these fees up front.  Our problem is when government entities use these fees as a method of stonewalling.

The most egregious part of this story, though, is the presumption on the part of this particular district that taxpayer advocates seeking to hold its leaders accountable are somehow in the wrong for requesting public documents.

They are not …

Leaders in this district have played the victim card in the past related to their poor stewardship of taxpayer resources.  It’s a shame to see them continuing this charade today.

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