Voters approve bond referendum in Beaufort County

Voters approve bond referendum in Beaufort County

BEAUFORT CO., S.C. (WTOC) - School leaders in Beaufort County are already planning their next steps as voters appear to have approved the first bond referendum in more than a decade. And that means millions of dollars for schools all over the district.

At 98 percent of precincts reporting, the ballot question to allow for school bonds to be used has 70 percent support from voters. That’s the question that sets aside $290 million for upgrades to security, technology and more.

The second ballot question, which sets aside $54 million for school expansion and school rebuilding, also passed.

May River High School and River Ridge Academy will be expanded to account for overcrowding. Robert Smalls International Academy will be rebuilt to update the infrastructure.

“Happy, ecstatic, fabulous, wonderful, awesome. I could go on.” Robert Smalls Academy Principal Jennifer Morillo said.

Other principals of schools impacted by the referendum feel the same way.

“I believe that we have the ability we should provide the best education experience possible and I think this is a step in the right direction for our school,” River Ridge Academy Principal Brian Rymand said.

River Ridge is gaining a new wing and expects the new wing will be done by next fall.

The principal says growing pains are expected.

“We might have to make some adjustments to make sure that the learning is still taking place in those rooms,” Rymand said.

Perhaps no one benefits more than the students who are in portable classrooms right now.

“This will allow us to move our students out of our portables and back into the brick and mortar building where we want them to be,” Rymand said.

Robert Smalls Academy won’t see results as quickly. However, students and teachers will have a voice as planning starts.

“So, I will ask them a few questions starting Monday about how in this new building will we honor our namesake, Robert Smalls. That is really important. And then what activities they would like to see take place in the new school building, and the aesthetics of the building,” Morillo said.

Planners for Robert Smalls say they are looking into architects and designs now. They hope to get started on the new project soon.

The May River project is ready to be built.

The planners have given themselves four years to complete all the projects on the bond referendum, including the new building for Robert Smalls.

Previous bond referendums have failed, with voters citing a lack of trust in the school board. Now, Superintendent Dr. Frank Rodriquez is planning on putting together an oversight committee of community members to make sure that does not remain an issue with the community.

Rodriguez put together a similar committee during his time with the board of education in West Palm Beach, Fla.

“We believe it is a really important component to this referendum. Because it gives our community an opportunity to see how we are spending the dollars. And to make sure we are doing it the way we said we would do it. And it’s part of building that ongoing relationship and ongoing trust that we know is essential,” Rodriquez.

The committee will bring quarterly reports to the board of education. Keeping track- line by line- of their allocation of bond referendum funds.

Members of the committee will be community volunteers that have expertise in fields such as finance, construction, and general experience in professional environments.

“We are going to work through, but we want to make sure that we get a good representative group,” Rodriquez said.

He said the oversight committee is important because it allows the community to keep their tax dollars in check.

The district says the vote is a good thing for the entire community.

“We are grateful for the support that we received yesterday from the community. That overwhelming support means a lot to our system,” Rodriquez said.

The superintendent will be putting the board together by himself.

The superintendent stated that they are still working through how people can volunteer or put their name in the hat to be on the committee. But they plan on having a committee together in the next few weeks.

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