Florence District 1 discusses $266M bond, mayor’s opposition to school plan

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FLORENCE, SC (WBTW) – Florence School District One board met to discuss concerns from the Mayor and parents about fairness regarding a proposed bond that will raise property tax rates Wednesday night.

The meeting comes after Florence Mayor Stephen Wukela questioned if the proposed bond is fair for all students in the district.

Mayor Wukela says the school board is not investing as much money into the North, South and East sections of the district. He wants the board to consider equal opportunities for students in those areas.

School Board Chairman Barry Townsend voiced publicly his opposition to the mayor’s claims, stating Mayor Wukela wants to stall progress within the district.

Mayor Wukela says he wants improvements and new high schools throughout the district, which means the proposed $88 million high school in West Florence would need to be reconsidered, especially since other renovations such as South Florence and Wilson high schools, would be funded with less than $20 million each.

“Unfortunately there has been a history of inequity,” says Mayor Wukela. “I think the proposed referendum further cements that inequity. What you hear from the school district is, ‘Well there is something in it for everyone.’ Well something and everything for one side is not equitable.”

Chairman Townsend says the board wants to make sure it is doing its best to keep students first, but considering the safety concerns at West Florence with overcrowding, the board believes a new school should be considered with the bond.

“The plan does indeed offer something for every student for in every school in the community. Is it the same amount? No, because the needs are different,” justifies Townsend. “The folks are looking at the dollar amount. You can never actually make that equal on a short term. When you look at it over decades it certainly should be but right now we have to address needs.”

Board Chair Barry Townsend started the meeting presenting two new options:

Option A) $225,000,000 bond

  • Millage increase of 38 mills to 69.5
  • $20,000,000 each for renovations at Wilson and South Florence High School

Option B) $250,000,000 bond

  • Millage increase of 31.5 mills to 74.5
  • $20,000,000 each for renovations at Wilson and South Florence High School
  • Offers $25,000,000 for undetermined projects (would have to decide before vote)

“We’re trying to create a plan that impacts all of them,” explained Townsend. “It does affect all of them. Everyone in those communities in those schools… parents in those students they all have different opinions on how we should get there.”

Former Board Chair Porter Stewart offered another plan:

Option C) $200,000,000 bond

  • Rebuild three new high schools
  • Middle schoolers will move to the high schools
  • Use the pay as you go plan to rebuild 4 schools and renovate 3 schools (with $131,000,000)

Townsend said Stewart’s proposal is “dangerous and irresponsible” because of over laps with phase two plans that have already been approved by the board. He also said the facilities committee studied the needs of each school for six months and the changes were not properly researched.

Stewart admits the numbers are estimations and not reflective of the construction studies. But says he made the proposal with parents’ concerns in mind.

Three board members Vice Chair Trisha Caulder, Reverend Alexis Pipkins Sr. and Will McLeod said they were disappointed because they felt bombarded by new information and still aren’t addressing the community’s concerns with West Florence.

James Williams, a Florence One grandparent says the division on the board makes him second guess all of the plans.

“When you’re trying to call for people to have bare a burden collectively and if there is no collectivity among those that are calling then that is going to harm the process,” said Williams.

The board came together to make a motion to have the facilities committee and the Superintendent meet again to discuss the plans and concerns.

The board scheduled that meeting for next Monday at 6 pm.

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