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Spartanburg District 7 voters tapped for school build

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By Bill Poovey
bpoovey@gsabusiness.com
Published Nov. 30, 2015

One year after voters in Spartanburg County District 5 turned down a property tax increase to support construction and major renovations at Byrnes High School, voters in the county’s more urban Spartanburg School District 7 are being asked to pay more tax for construction, mostly for a new Spartanburg High School.

The District 7 school board voted to pursue a $186.5 million building plan that would relocate Spartanburg High to the former Lan-Yair Golf Club on East Main Street. A referendum could be scheduled in March. The proposed tax increase, up to 10 mills, would add $40 in tax on a home valued at $100,000. The tax increase would also be paid on cars, rental property and businesses.

Construction is underway at Byrnes High School. (Photo by Bill Poovey)
Construction is underway at Byrnes High School.
(Photo by Bill Poovey)
Superintendent Russell Booker said the district has a $9.9 million contract on the 182-acre site for the proposed $128 million high school, contingent on voter and state approvals. Booker said the building plan includes a new elementary school to open in 2018, allowing a consolidation of two elementary schools. After moving students from Spartanburg High in 2019, that 59-year-old campus would be renovated for use by a middle school.

Booker said the system has held community meetings and he is continuing to speak to civic and business groups about the building plan.

“The board has said up to 10 mills is what we are asking,” he said. “In the forums, I haven’t had a lot of pushback about that. I make sure people understand we are just as concerned about taxes as everyone else and just as concerned about economic development.” He said the projects would help spur growth in Spartanburg’s Eastside and he has heard “positive comments about property values.”

District 7 has 7,300 students, 1,200 employees and 14 schools.

Booker said he is trying to be as open as possible about the building plan and how it will be funded.

“I’ve been talking about the need for the last three years” the superintendent said. “I made it known two years ago that the facility study was underway.”

Booker said he has talked to District 5 representatives about their proposed building plan and tax increase and “have given me their thoughts on why it didn’t pass.”

In District 5, two months after the defeat of a 13.1 mill increase that would have raised taxes by $53 on a $100,000 home to support a $71 million construction plan, the District 5 board went ahead with approval of a $26.1 million high school project without a tax increase. The ongoing work at the school originally built in 1955 includes renovations, a new classroom wing, relocation of the school bus loop as a safety measure, enhanced security and new technology equipment.

Jim McMillan, a self-described “grassroots activist” in Wellford who vocally opposed the District 5 tax increase, said government requests for more money to spend never end.

“I asked someone a few days ago, ‘Do you think those folks will approve a referendum?’ It just seems like we never have enough of them taking our money, and there is no end to it, whether it is District 5, the state, the federal government or whomever,” McMillan said. He said if school officials “did better planning, they would have plenty to build the school. We turned down that $71 million. Somehow they had the money to do the project.”

McMillan said he will “be a voice” against a District 7 tax increase.

“We’re taxed enough already,” McMillan said. “What happened to the Tea Party?”

District 5 spokeswoman Melissa Robinette said Tea Partiers and others who don’t live in the district were among vocal opponents of the tax increase last year. She said the defeat was a disappointment, particularly with campus growth needs and transportation safety issues.

“Those needs don’t go away,” Robinette said. “We were able to figure out that we could complete Phase I without raising taxes.”

Reach Bill Poovey at 864-235-5677, ext. 104

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