DARLINGTON, SC -- Friday afternoon the Darlington County Board of Education approved sending a bond and capital sales tax referendum to voters in November to fund the construction of three new elementary schools to replace six aging school facilities in the school district. The bond, which will cost no more than $60 million, will be paid through a one-cent sales tax that will replace the expiring one-cent sales tax that voters approved in 2003.
The Darlington County School District (DCSD) has more than 2 million square feet of building space. The average age of DCSD’s 23 schools is 46.17 years. The average age of the district’s elementary schools is 55 years. Aging schools present challenges in maintenance, security measures, and the ability to handle current and future technological needs.
In 2012, the school district commissioned a master facilities plan. The plan included recommendations on renovating some schools as well as combining and closing others.
The Darlington County Board of Education has identified six schools that have aging facilities and smaller enrollments.
• Brunson-Dargan Elementary School (Darlington) – 51 years old
• Cain Elementary School (Darlington) – 51 years old
• Washington Street Elementary School (Hartsville) – 55 years old
• West Hartsville Elementary School (Hartsville) - 60 years old
• Spaulding Elementary School (Lamar) – 63 years old
• Lamar Elementary School (Lamar) – 68 years old
If voters approve the referendum in November, the DCSD will use fund balance to pay off the remaining debt from the 2003 penny sales tax referendum. The new one-cent sales tax would begin after the old penny sales tax expired. In essence, the penny sales tax would continue, and consumers would not see a tax increase.
The Darlington County Board of Education considered several options to meet the facility needs of the district, including raising property taxes and alternate funding plans. Ultimately the Board decided the continuation of the penny sales tax would be the most cost-effective solution for taxpayers while still resulting in three new schools for the county. The Darlington County Board of Education has not raised operating millage for the school district in more than eight years.
The 2003 Bond
• In 2003, Darlington County voters overwhelming approved a one-cent sales tax to pay for the $48 million bond to build three new schools and renovate several others. The bond was scheduled to mature in 2030.
• In 2014, through a combination of refinancing and repayment, the Darlington County Board of Education shortened the bond life by 12 years and saved taxpayers more than $32 million. As a result, the current penny sales tax is set to expire in 2018.
Since the last referendum:
• DCSD has one of the highest graduation rates in the state.
• In every high school in our district, more than nine out of every 10 high school freshmen will graduate in four years.
• We have introduced six new magnet programs in arts, as well as science and math.
• We’ve provided our teachers with laptops and equipped our schools with interactive whiteboards and wireless computer systems.
• Our Digital Transformation Project is nearing our goal of 1-to-1 personal computing devices for every student in our district, K-12.
• We have built three new schools, two cafeterias, many new classrooms and labs, media centers, and athletic facilities.
• The school district introduced an Expanded Choice program, giving our parents more control of their child’s education.
• The district now participates in the Community Eligibility Program, which allows all students to eat free breakfast and lunch at school.
• All campuses now have a School Resource Officer, and the number of nurses and social workers has increased significantly.
• The Darlington High School Early College program allows students to earn a high school diploma and an Associate Degree from Florence-Darlington Technical College.
• Hartsville High School became an International Baccalaureate School and enrollment in that program has continued to grow every year.
• The district now offers full-day four-year-old kindergarten.
• Robotics programs have been introduced throughout the district.