After months of division, Brunswick education leaders stand together on school bond

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Brunswick County school board members expressed a need for unity moving forward in their pursuit of placing a $153 million bond referendum on November's ballot. Photo by Hilary Snow.
Brunswick County school board members expressed a need for unity moving forward in their pursuit of placing a $153 million bond referendum on November’s ballot. Photo by Hilary Snow.

Moving forward, Brunswick County education officials are standing united in their efforts to place a bond referendum on November’s ballot.

Less than two months after a divided school board voted down, 3-2, a motion to postpone a push for the $153 million measure, its members have voiced their commitment to continue pursuing the bond—this time as a cohesive group.

“While I have voted against the 2016 bond, this board has voted for it. So, I will do whatever I can to help get it passed,” Charlie Miller, who previously supported putting the referendum on hold, said during a special called meeting Tuesday. “I’m not against a bond. I was just hoping it would be in 2018.”

Catherine Cooke, who made that November motion to halt discussion of the bond, said she, too, would stand with the school board, although she wanted to know where Brunswick County commissioners stand on the issue.

Before the board of education can ask voters to decide the bond, commissioners must agree to place it on the ballot.

Several commissioners, including Cooke’s husband, Marty, have questioned whether county residents could support a bond that a five-member board of education couldn’t agree on.

The bond, whittled down from $175 million, includes 12 projects, key among them a new middle school in Town Creek.

A Town Creek middle school would be among the first projects, along with classroom additions at West Brunswick High and Town Creek Elementary and the start of districtwide improvements to athletic fields, technology infrastructures and security systems, along with general building repairs and upgrades.

District leaders would also like to build an early college high school and a technical high school on the campus of Brunswick Community College in 2022. Brunswick County Early College High School already operates on that campus but is located in the top floor of an existing building.

Other projects include the replacement of the K-2 wing at Waccamaw School and improvements to playground equipment, technology infrastructure and security systems at all schools.

“I just want to reconfirm that we are going with the bond referendum for 2016. It’s a new year. We’ve still got our work cut out for us. We still have to get the approval of the county,” Brunswick County Board of Education chairman Bud Thorsen said.

Seeing a renewed accord—the board’s first vote last year on the referendum was unanimous—helped sway vice chairwoman Shirley Babson from changing her vote.

Babson acknowledged that she has recently stated publicly that she planned to make a motion to move the bond referendum to 2018 but said Tuesday that she now believes there is enough consensus on the board to stick with this year’s ballot.

“Since I have seen some difference in confidence among us to do the bond, I’m not going to make a motion,” she noted.

Putting together a bond package to sell to taxpayers, board member John Thompson said, is not an easy task. Considering that, he said it was crucial the board stand on common ground.

“This is not a light undertaking….It’s no small thing and we all need to be pulling in the same direction,” he said.

The impact of the bond is, overall, an estimated four-cent increase in property taxes. On a tax bill for a $200,000 home, for example, there would be an increase of approximately $75 annually.

But it isn’t quite that simple.

Since the county is still paying off the district’s $83 million bond in 1999, there would be some overlap in paying both old and new debt, meaning tax rates could higher during certain years.

But Babson said the district—and therefore taxpayers–were losing money each year due to constant repairs at some of the older schools.

“This is the best way for us to do it. I think we’re being responsible with the money to go ahead and do it now,” she argued.

And as the county continues to grow, superintendent Les Tubb said, the tax base will increase with it, driving down the impact on individual property taxes.

The question that remains is where county commissioners stand on the 2016 bond. Thorsen directed district administrators to schedule a meeting with the board of commissioners in the near future. Board members will also continue sorting out bond projects at an operations committee meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 19 in central office.

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at hilary.s@portcitydaily.com.