School board votes to use accrual funds

Vote in conflict with July decision
to return money to taxpayers

By Nicole Daughhetee
Staff Reporter

COUNTY — Following Monday night’s school board financial services workshop, School District of Pickens County board trustees Judy Edwards, Jim Shelton and Herb Cooper voted to allocate $3.1 million to complete the technology refresh in 475 elementary and middle school classrooms, as well as to allocate $550,000 to replace the damaged roof at R.C. Edwards Middle School.

Trustees Ben Trotter and Jimmy Gillespie opposed the motion, while SDPC board chair Alex Saitta was not present for the workshop and subsequent meeting.

“I’m not going to be able to vote for the roof to be put on Edwards because it would come out of the building fund and I voted to give that back to the taxpayers, so I’m going to stick with that,” said Gillespie. “Although, I do want a new roof put on Edwards.”

The approximately $3.7 million for technology and the roof for Edwards comes from the $13 million revenue accrual from the building program investment earnings that Saitta, Trotter and Gillespie voted, on July 25, to return to the taxpayers at the earliest time possible.

Shelton was absent from the July 25 meeting when the SDPC voted to return the $13 million to the taxpayers, and Shelton questioned the legality of the vote at the time.

Since then, however, Shelton has discovered that according to state law, motions involving the allocation of funds require three separate readings if the funds are being allocated from the general fund or operating budget. There are no stipulations requiring three votes when it comes to building fund monies.

When asked why he would participate in a vote with so many similarities to the July vote he publically called into question, Shelton said: “I’m just following the leadership of the board. They set the precedent when they voted on the $13 million in building fund money back in July. We got a legal opinion that said all those things were legal.
“We went one step further because it was on the agenda, under action items. When they had the vote in July, they were going to get an administrative report about additional funds. Nowhere in that agenda did it say the board would take action, so that was never announced to the public. This agenda was under action items. The public was notified back on October 8.”

Saitta, who was unable to attend Monday night’s financial workshop and called board meeting said he was not surprised by Monday’s developments.

“In 2006, hundreds of millions was borrowed for the building program,” Saitta said. “It was anticipated $42 million would be earned in interest while that money sat in the bank waiting to be spent on construction and renovations. We learned earlier this year $55 million in interest was earned, so in July, Trotter, Gillespie and myself voted to set aside the $13 million, to be returned to the taxpayers.

“I warned then that Mr. Shelton and the other liberals on the board would be looking for ways to stop that or get their hands on that newfound building money and spend it. My warning has proven to be valid,” said Saitta. “First Mr. Shelton questioned the legality of the vote to set aside the money for the taxpayers. Our lawyers deemed that vote legal. Then, when I happen to miss a meeting due to illness, Shelton made a motion and it was supported by Cooper and Edwards to spend $3.5 million of the $13 million that was slated to be returned to the taxpayers.”

While the SDPC issued no official statement on last night’s vote, district public information specialist John Eby said the only funds superintendent Dr. Kelly Pew will request to be allocated are the $550,000 for the repair of the Edwards Middle School roof.

“The $3.1 million for technology is definitely a need, but the district did not recommend immediate action on that funding,” Eby said.

No one disputes that replacing the roof at R.C. Edwards is a critical need, but Trotter takes issue with where the funding is coming from.
“We have $1.3 million that we have accumulated from last year from the sale of properties and so forth. If we had taken the $550,000 from that, I would have voted for it,” said Trotter. “State law says we have to maintain those buildings, and I had planned on voting for the roof. But I was not going to vote for it out of the $13 million we voted to give back to the taxpayers.”

Following Monday night’s vote, Edwards Middle will have its roof replaced and 12 elementary schools — in addition to Dacusville Middle, Adult Ed and Simpson, will have their technology refreshes completed.
“We made the technology refresh complete. The PolyVision Boards will round out the technology refresh, along with up-to-date laptops for teachers and students. Economically we have reached the point of diminishing returns. We knew that these boards would only have a life expectancy of three to four years,” said Shelton. “Do I like it — no. But if we are going to keep technology in the classroom, these are expenses we have absorb. Are we going to go back to blackboards and slide rules and prepare our students for the 21st century?”

While he was unable to be at Monday night’s meeting, Saitta still offered a warning to Pickens County residents.

“Mark my words, they will be working to get their hands on the rest of that money, so in the end nothing will returned to taxpayers,” he said. “Unlike you and me, they do not believe the building program should be limited, so they keep voting to grow the size of the program. When the first county wide building program was put on the drawing board in 2005, it was $158 million. Since then it was increased in size seven times to $374.2 million. With this vote it was increased again, an eighth time, to $377 million.”