Courier Letters to the Editor

Discord in Pickens Co.

Dear Editor,

Has anyone noticed how hostile Pickens County has become? In more than 30 years, I’ve never seen so much discord. The county seems to be fighting with everybody right now, suing cities, individuals and even the press. Their actions continue to embarrass and isolate Pickens County, not only in the Upstate, but the entire state.

It feels like we are moving backward. For some background on how we got here, I believe that people got passive and apathetic shortly after the new schools were built. However, still mad about the building program, folks with very conservative viewpoints got their candidates elected while no one was really paying attention. They then began dictating policy, and sadly, the school board and the county council complied.

Now, thanks to parents, citizens and business leaders’ concerns, the public is rapidly becoming aware of what’s been going on in the dark. With previously unseen enthusiasm, citizens are becoming aware and beating the drum. Folks are demanding transparency in all aspects of county government.

This groundswell has shown several glaring issues in both bodies. The lack of support for recreation, quality of life, public education and planned economic growth are all keymarks of the extreme conservative. Our elected leaders have delivered — to them. For now.

Sadly, these policies are affecting economic development. The current council’s agenda and negative actions, as covered in the local press, is enough to damage the reputation of the county, and perhaps that’s their goal.

The governor recently called us out as the only county in the state with no economic development announcement last year.

The good news is that is changing rapidly, thanks to the “daylight” that the press and the public demand.

We demand future jobs and training for our kids. We demand to be the best school district in the state. We demand access and support of the Doodle Trail. We demand that county council stop embarrassing the rest of us.

Tom O’Hanlan


School board trustee Saitta responds

Dear Editor,

I want to respond to last week’s letter where the writer said school board members didn’t support superintendent Dr. Danny Merck’s first budget; the budget was instead attacked and not approved.

I don’t know what budget the writer is talking about. The general fund budget was presented in rough draft a couple of weeks ago. The board hasn’t even received the first official version of the budget, so the budget hasn’t been voted on one time by the board, much less three times, which is required.

There was a capital needs plan proposed by the administration in December for $5.8 million, including a 4.8-mill property tax increase. The board modified the plan a bit and authorized $4.7 million in spending on new roofs, computers, HVACs, etc. There wasn’t a tax increase because we better utilized existing funds. Capital needs are now covered into 2016-17.

This term, more than 90 percent of what the superintendent has recommended to the board has been approved. When you look at the voting records of Brian Swords, Herb Cooper and Judy Edwards, they’ve voted with the administration’s recommendation 95 percent of the time. I’ve voted with the administration 77 percent of the time, and I am considered the maverick on the board. The other trustees fall in-between. The board is no longer a rubberstamp (maybe that is what has the writer upset), but at 90 percent-plus, there has been support for the administration overall.

In general, the letter repeated the theme put forth by numerous members of Concerned Citizens of Pickens County — taxes must be raised because (of the false claim) school funding has been cut.

For instance, the letter claims funds generated for the general fund account are the same as in 2003. That is woefully untrue. The general fund budget was $74.7 million in 2003. This year it is $105.8 million. Looking at district spending across all accounts, in 2003 total spending was $110.1 million. This past year it was $171.8 million. Sizable increases no matter how you look at it. The total school property tax rate is 165.2 mills, just shy of the record of 167.

Continuing the push for higher tax rates, the writer claimed our per-pupil spending ranks near the bottom of surrounding counties. Untrue. Our school district’s per-pupil spending ($10,276) is about as much as Greenville’s ($10,271) and Anderson 5’s ($10,292). It is more than Anderson 1, 2 and 3, but less than Anderson 4 and Oconee.

It is true annual teacher pay in Pickens is about $1,900 below surrounding counties. This is due mainly to the administration/board decision to build all these buildings at one time. Building spending has increased $26 million per year (equal to 30 annual teacher pay raises) and that is squeezing overall financial resources, so teacher pay is lagging a bit. Now that the building program is behind us, we aim to narrow the teacher pay gap, and I think we’ll have some success doing that this upcoming year.

The writer, like many on the political left, measures success and caring by how much elected officials spend, borrow and tax. Our school district is among the top 15 in the state. The graduation rate is up 8 percentage points the past five years, yet because trustees like me are resisting a tax increase, he just doesn’t seem satisfied.

Alex Saitta

School Board Trustee