Referendum’s Backers Undaunted by Defeat

July 9, 2010

Investigative Reports

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The NerveJane Page Thompson
Citizen Reporter

A proposed $236 million Aiken County School bond referendum was defeated by a margin of more than two-to-one on May 25, but that hasn’t kept the bond proponents from sending the local media letters in support of the failed measure.

In the five weeks since voters handily defeated the referendum, 13,686 to 5,760, bond supporters have claimed repeatedly that by casting a “no” ballot, voters failed students and the county.

Television news stations have done follow-up stories, implying that those who voted against the referendum are not sensitive to school needs.

The Aiken School Board and district administrators were given the flexibility by the legislative delegation to reduce administrative staff, redirecting funds to school improvements. Instead, the superintendent filled all positions that could have been eliminated, moved principals out of schools where the bond failed and explained the existence of administrative positions through editorials in the Aiken Standard.

Citizens have written letters to the editor seeking a compromise or solutions; others have asked for a way to direct volunteer resources to individual schools. However, those requests received little response.

The Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce and the Public Education Partners have also been silent on the matter; they offered no solutions, backup plan or new initiatives.

Several parents and students in schools targeted for remodeling or replacement wrote letters to the Standard detailing their concerns about deteriorating restrooms and older classrooms. Yet to date, no public effort has been made to recruit sponsors and volunteers to repair or address these concerns over the summer months.

Aiken’s is not the only bond to be voted down because of the current economy.

Since May 25, when the Wall Street Journal wrote about Warren Buffet’s pullback from the bond market, the publication Bond Buyer has been forecasting a decline in muni-bonds.

Last week, USA Today featured a front-page article about government spending reductions and school bond measures that have failed elsewhere in the nation.

Along with Aiken, USA Today reported about the same issue in Marblehead, Mass., which in the past eight years has approved three other school bonds. But on June 15, voters in the Boston-area community said no to the latest referendum. Marblehead voters’ stance echoed that of voters in Aiken: It’s the economy.

The declining economy has not seemed to be a major issue in the “Vote Yes” campaign backed by: the local media, Aiken County School Board, Aiken school administrators, Aiken Chamber of Commerce, Public Education Partners and federally funded businesses.

Even after a resounding defeat, it’s possible that bond proponents may want to move forward with another referendum.

Jane Page Thompson is an accredited land consultant and realtor from Aiken. She is active in her community and is involved in local political party grassroots development.