Horry County Schools has narrowed down the amount of work included in its new five-year plan — and they're getting closer to figuring out how to pay for it.
The scope of the work has been narrowed down to a handful of priorities totaling more than $370 million, and includes a new elementary school to relieve crowding in River Oaks Elementary, replacement schools for St. James Elementary, Whittemore Park Middle, Conway Education Center and the Horry County Education Center (the district's alternative school) and a new school for the North Myrtle Beach attendance area.
It also includes funding for 40 modular units to relieve overcrowding throughout other schools in the district.
On Monday night, a school board committee voted to approve three projects totaling an estimated $40.5 million. Those projects are replacing the Horry County Education Center ($13 million), a new building to house the district's transportation and records departments ($7.85 million) and additions to Aynor Middle School ($19.7 million).
The amount is less than the total amount of money the district has access to through 2024 for capital projects.
The full board will need to take a final vote on the three projects.
But some board members already are unhappy with the allocation of the funds in the district's plan.
The draft five-year capital plan calls for up to $53.3 million in estimated renovation work at Conway High School. North Myrtle Beach High School spent $21 million for its recent renovation.
"I’m not trying to be ugly but I don’t know how else to put it," said board member Holly Heniford, who represents North Myrtle. "I feel like North Myrtle Beach is being treated like the step-child. We only got $21 million for our renovation and you’ve got Conway getting double that. And we didn’t get new furniture; we didn’t get a lot of things. And that’s not fair to my district."
Board member Janet Graham, who represents Conway, said she couldn't speak to North Myrtle Beach High School's work, but said Conway was in need of repairs.
"Everything from soup to nuts, from the bottom to the top," she said. "Maybe instead of a renovation, maybe we could have a replacement. Right now it's on the [renovation] list, but we aren't through talking yet. And hopefully we can get some more projects for Conway as well. Whittemore Park, and I'm still trying to push for South Conway Elementary."
The money issue
Board members are planning on a bond referendum in order to borrow money to pay for the rest of the projects, and will have to make a decision on how much money to request by Aug. 15 so voters can decide in November.
"I think we should do a referendum," said board Chair Joe DeFeo, whose opinion was echoed by other board members. "It’s a matter of what amount?"
DeFeo said the board would vote on the referendum in July, and that a tax increase wasn't being discussed.
"I still have not heard one board member say they would vote for a tax raise," DeFeo said.
A bond referendum at the existing tax rate could give the district up to $130 million in the next fiscal year with an additional $12.7 million over the life of the penny sales tax, which expires in 2024. The tax is up for renewal in November of 2022.
The district will still need to prioritize the remaining items on the list of work that totals $370 million.
"I think the growth in our area … is rising," Heniford said. "If we set back and just do this bond referendum, we'll be fine."
Christian Boschult, 843-626-0218, @TSN_Christian