Which new schools will be built first, and how does it impact Horry County taxpayers?

Red, blue and green square magnets helped Horry County School board members decide how to move forward on the district’s five-year capital plan, though they continued to delay conversation on how to fund it.

The plan includes new and replacement schools, renovations, maintenance and upkeep across all of the district facilities at a total projected cost of more than $754 million.

Dr. Sandra Lindsay, a clinical professor at University of South Carolina, was brought in to help facilitate the discussion, which has been ongoing among board members for about a year.

Much of the discussion has centered on how to bridge the gap in funding needs and availability, including the possibility of a tax increase or borrowing, but Lindsay started Tuesday’s board retreat meeting by having the board members determine which projects should be prioritized.

Horry County School board members brought in Dr. Sandra Lindsay, a clinical professor at University of South Carolina, to help facilitate their discussion on the district’s five-year capital plan, estimated to cost a total of more than $754 million. David Weissman

In order to determine priorities, the projects were split into five categories — capacity/growth, replace/renovate for condition, sustainment projects, athletic projects and grounds projects — and Lindsay allotted each of the 11 board members green (worth three points), blue (two points) and red (one point) magnets for each category.

Board members took turns placing their magnets next to the projects they deemed most important, and then a follow-up round allowed board members to choose which category of projects was most important.

Based on the exercise, the board’s priorities include modular classrooms, renovating St. James High School, renovating Myrtle Beach High School, replacing the Horry County Education Center and replacing Whittemore Park Middle School.

Interim board president Neil James was confused about the final results, noting two projects board members had previously prioritized — renovating Aynor Middle School and creating a new building for transportation/records — did not make it onto the new priorities list.

Horry County School board members participated in an exercise Dec. 3 placing colored magnets next to projects in their five-year capital plan they deemed most important in order to figure out their priorities. David Weissman

Shanda Allen, the only board member representing Aynor, said the middle school already is over capacity and the new priorities list sends a message to that area that they’re not as important.

After the priorities discussion was done, board members briefly discussed financing options, but no decisions were made as James suggested board members needed “time to digest” what they’d just done.

Board member Janice Morreale expressed frustration about not moving forward on a funding plan.

“We’ve had this packet for a year,” she said, referring to the options compiled showing how much money the district could raise based on various options including raising taxes, borrowing or a combination of the two.

Morreale, who has spoken in favor of a combination of raising the millage rate and borrowing, told The Sun News that she hopes board members make a decision by early January because they need to begin these projects.

Board chairman-elect Ken Richardson, who will take office in January, told board members during the meeting that the district could receive some of the funding necessary to move forward on projects from the federal government.

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Richardson explained that a $5.5 billion Hurricane Florence relief package was recently introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, and the district could receive funding from that package in the form of a zero-interest loan that would need to be paid back within 30 years.

Richardson told The Sun News he is adamantly against raising taxes and will do whatever he can to prevent an increase in the millage rate.

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Investigative project reporter David Weissman joined The Sun News after three years working at The York Dispatch in Pennsylvania, where he earned awards for his investigative reports on topics including health, business, politics and education.