Residents push back against R2’s $468.4M bond as excessive

BLYTHEWOOD – Before Richland 2 voters decide whether or not to approve a tax increase to pay for $468.4 million in various school projects, school officials are heavily promoting the referendum.

One stop on the district’s information tour occurred Monday in Blythewood before a small crowd at Doko Manor. The public forum featured presentations from district staff and a question and answer session, which at times saw some residents questioning the referendum as excessive.

Scheduled to appear on the Nov. 6 ballot, the referendum would increase taxes by about 10 mils. The last bond referendum, valued at $306 million, was approved in 2008.

District officials say a typical homeowner living in a $167,000 home would pay an extra $65 a year in taxes. Taxes would also go up for cars, boats and other taxable property.

If approved, construction projects could begin building as early as summer 2019, district documents state.

At a public forum Monday in Blythewood, district officials said the intent was to present residents with facts.

“This is about facts. We are not here in a persuasive manner,” said Superintendent Baron Davis. “We aren’t here to ask you to vote a specific way, but to give you facts. We are here in an educational capacity to address any misconceptions that may exist.”

Davis said safety and security are the main drivers of the referendum. Richland 2 schools face additional infrastructure needs, including schools needing sufficient learning spaces, he said.

“We have some immediate needs that have to be addressed in our school district,” Davis said. “There really is only one way to address these needs, and that’s through a bond. It will require us to borrow a significant amount of money to accomplish these things.”

Other areas the referendum addresses include two new football stadiums, new buses and enhanced bus security and a Fine Arts center in the Sandhills area, about 12 miles from Blythewood.

Residents at Monday’s forum, however, raised concerns about costs.

“Why not design three separate schools – elementary, middle and high school? If you need to add, add,” resident Herb Wofford stated. “We can stop all of these million-dollar architectural fees, save some money and put it on something else. What in here is not absolutely necessary to educate our children? How much fluff is in there?”

The crowd applauded.

Another parent raised concerns that Blythewood projects, particularly those involving the fine arts, were receiving less priority than other projects in the district.

“As a Blythewood parent, I don’t understand why those are under the third tier of things,” she said. “We need more space for our band. Why are we not expanding those facilities that we need for fine arts?”

“This is all about patting ourselves on the back and putting a name on the building,” resident Rhonda Meisner said. “This needs to be student-centric, not facility-centric.”

One resident asked what would happen if the bond fails.

“We’ll continue to do what we’ve always been doing, to provide our students with a premier education with what we have,” Davis replied.

Dr. Harry Miley, the district’s chief financial officer, said 98 percent of the district’s $250 million plus operating budget goes primarily to salaries and benefits, leaving little to address infrastructure.

“A referendum really is our only option,” Miley said.

The $468.4M bond referendum will be requested of voters in two parts.

Question 1: Can the district borrow $381,952,000 for:

Safety and security ($288.1M) include secure entrances, replacing Bethel-Hanberry Elementary, Forrest Lake Elementary and E. L. Wright Middle, applying film on windows, adding security cameras and reducing use of portables.

Academic spaces ($61.5M) include creating collaborative learning spaces, and spaces for magnet programs.

Transportation ($7M) includes 60 new buses, bus and transportation hub security, facility improvements.

Technology ($25M) will go to infrastructure improvements and sustainability.

Miscellaneous costs, including unspecified improvements, costs of land, engineering fees and legal costs.

Question 2: If question 1 is approved by voters, can the district borrow an additional $86,454,000 for:

Athletics/Arts ($86.5M) include two new football stadium so BHS and Spring Valley won’t have to share stadiums, performing arts center at Sandhills, new field houses.

Davis urged residents to go to for more information about the bond.

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