PICKENS — Pickens County School Superintendent Dr. Kelly Pew introduced a need for maintenance programs at the Monday meeting of the county's school board to a lukewarm reception.
In all there are 22 projects that need the district's attention ranging from HVAC upgrades to roof repairs and many of the projects need to be completed during summer months while there are no children or faculty present. In all the entire cost of the capital improvement needs is $13,084,280 while there is a only a balance of $615,827 available in the Capital Improvements Fund.
The initiative passed on to further study by a vote of 3-2, but the biggest debate is over where the money for the remainder of the plan should come from. Dr. Herbert Cooper, Judy Edwards and Jim Shelton voted for the measure while Alex Saitta and Jimmy Gillespie voted in the negative.
Pew's option as presented pulls the balance from the general fund ($3,040,596) and the building program's excess interest earnings ($9,427,857).
Board member Judy Edwards isn't thrilled the district is in this position, considering the debt taken on over the years with the building program, but she is trying to push the district in the right direction.
“The need for maintenance and repairs for our schools should trump any discussions on raising taxes,” she explained. “We've been elected to be here to make our schools better, safe, and desirable, to make education in Pickens County better. It's not our job to act as a tax association but to use what we have the best we can.”
Not everyone on the board agrees. Vice Chair Alex Saitta is opposed to the use of the excess interest earnings for the maintenance.
“I am fiscally conservative and think we can find the money in the existing budget by cutting waste,” Saitta said. “When we were in the middle of the debate over a second middle school, some of those funds could have been set aside for this purpose, instead it had to all be spent. But there are other areas of the budget where cuts could be made, spending we could use on projects like this.”
Saitta is referring to expenditures such as the policy of purchasing accumulated and unused sick days from retiring employees by the school district.
“As a district we've paid out over $350,000 in bonuses to buy out sick pay from retirees,” Saitta said. “If we eliminate programs and excesses like this, we can find the money.”
During the board's debate before taking a vote, the situation was referred to as a crisis multiple times by Pew, which got the attention of one concerned parent.
During the meeting Monday, Pew stated these were not “cosmetic changes, but repairs that have in some cases been put off for five years,” increasing the timeline for action. Of the 22 projects, 10 are slated to be completed this year.