April 1, 2023

The Nerve

Where Government Gets Exposed

District 5 Discussing Another Bond Issue

The NerveLess than two years after Lexington-Richland School District 5 secured passage of a contentious $243.7 million bond issue, the district’s board is already talking about another referendum.

During an April 19 workshop at Harbison West Elementary School, Superintendent Herb Berg said, “District 5 is good enough, strong enough and wealthy enough” that each of the district’s three high schools, plus another one in the planning stages, should have a performing arts center.

To reach that goal, Berg said he’s confident that he’d be able to get a bond passed to pay for construction costs associated with the projects.

“The days of losing bonds here are over,” he said. “Not that you want to put a wish list together, but you ought to be thinking about the future. I’d love to be here to help with it. I know we could … get 65 percent ‘yes’ next time.”

To which board member Ed White responded: “Can we sign you up?”

Berg, a long-time superintendent who joined District 5 in 2008 following the resignation of Scott Andersen, said he’s confident in his ability to get bonds passed. In fact, he said the winning percentage for the 2008 bond was below his average.

“I’m actually used to getting 75 percent ‘yes’ on my bonds when I run them,” he said. “I love 58 (percent); it passed, but I was personally disappointed.”

While there was no discussion of when a new bond referendum of what amount the district might seek, White said the district put got bids for a similar project eight years ago, the price per auditorium was about $20 million. As for a time frame, Berg at one point suggested another referendum be held in “three or four years or whatever.”

Berg and the District 5 board may be getting ahead of themselves, however. Bond proposals in 2005 and 2007 failed, and the district has had problems in recent years with accusations of not being completely upfront.

The Nerve has detailed several issues over the past few months, including:

  • District 5 awarding a $7.7 million school construction contract without the mandatory approvals first from the S.C. Department of Education;
  • The district moving kindergarten students into a new classroom wing at Leaphart Elementary School without first receiving the required approval for a fire suppression system, and the Department of Education’s certificate of occupancy; and
  • The district board voting to approve Chapin High School’s renovation and expansion plans as “final” documents and ready for bid without promised public review and input.

In addition, just a few months after approval of the 2008 referendum, district officials began scaling back plans for spending some of the bond money after reviewing a demographic study that said student growth in the district over the next decade is projected to actually decline.Expansion of three elementary schools would be smaller than planned, it was announced; and a new middle school in the Dutch Fork area was said to be in limbo, according to reports in the Columbia media.

Districts officials, however, said at the time that they were sticking with plans to build a new elementary school and a new high school between the Dutch Fork and Chapin areas in a few years, despite the fact that there is relatively little population in that area at present.

In fact, during the April 19 work session Berg spoke of the need for a new auditorium for the as-yet unbuilt high school, as though construction of that facility was a done deal.

He also said a new auditorium is needed at Irmo High School, and that it would be necessary to rebuild the auditorium at Dutch Fork High. Even Chapin High, with renovation plans to include a stage in the gymnasium, might get another new structure.

“By that time the new Chapin High School facility will have been in use for a few years,” Berg said. “You’ll have a sense of how that is. … You may not need it out there.”

Berg got little pushback from board members.

“I would be absolutely in favor of anything we can do to promote the arts,” said Carol Sloop. “It’s new, fresh, different, and provides a niche for kids who don’t have that now.

“Most of our parents can afford to send their kids wherever, but for those that can’t then we can provide this within the school,” she added. “I think that would be wonderful.”

Berg joined Lexington-Richland 5 in August 2008 on a temporary basis at $163,950, after Andersen resigned amid controversy.

Shortly after the bond referendum passed, Berg was officially named superintendent. His salary was set at $195,000, an increase of nearly $24,000 over what Andersen was earning when he left three months earlier, and a $40,000 boost from what Andersen was making three months prior to that.

Dietrich can be reached at (803) 779-5022, ext. 110, or kevin@scpolicycouncil.com.

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The Nerve