A response: District 55 addresses "libelous statements"
To Laurens County School District 55 Community Members: For some time now, we have sat by and remained silent while a group of citizens have repeatedly used this medium as a means of attacking the proposed $109 million bond referendum.
One of the principals among this group of citizens is Mr. Jayhue Weisner. In Weisner’s letter to the editor, published on June 7, 2017, he made statements that require a response from this office.
First, we respect the right of every citizen in our community to vote their conscience on September 5. We certainly hope that our constituents will trust the judgement of our leadership in the district office and on the school board. We know our students deserve an environment that is conducive to a 21st century learning modality. This is especially important at the high school level; but, it has ramifications at every grade level within our district. Our current facilities do not and cannot provide the technology, space, or opportunities that are essential to meeting our educational goals. Even with the passage of the bond referendum, we are at least two years away from being able to make the substantive changes necessary to provide the best opportunity for our students.
Based on community concerns that were presented in the four forums held earlier this year, Dr. Stephen Peters, LCSD 55 Superintendent, empaneled a committee (the Facilities Projects Advisory Committee or FPAC) to review the purpose of the bond and to make recommendations regarding both the amount of the bond and the ultimate structure of the district if the bond passes. The FPAC has taken this charge seriously and many dedicated citizens have committed themselves to providing input and guidance in this process. The FPAC met with members of the school board on Tuesday, June 13 to present some of their findings and recommendations. Those results will be presented to the community well in advance of the referendum.
Now we come to the most recent and potentially libelous statements of Jay Weisner. In his June 7th letter to the editor, Weisner implied that the district office of LCSD 55 (and other local government offices) may be prone to corruption and that the reason for the size of the bond is to allow for the skimming of funds from the bond. We are appalled by this unfounded and unwarranted implication. There is no mechanism by which these or any other funds might be diverted for personal use. There are sufficient checks and balances in place to ensure that any attempt to do so would be discovered and thoroughly prosecuted. Weisner is merely attempting to “throw shade” on the district office and, by proxy, the members of the school board. By diverting the conversation from the legitimate facility and educational needs within the district and personally attacking Dr. Peters and the collective staff at the district office, Weisner is attempting to make this a referendum of personality and ignore the larger issue of need. This has been his pattern since the beginning.
While the majority of Weisner’s statements and questions are without merit, we will address one specific issue that Weisner mentions repeatedly. Early on there were two different and conflicting calculations done to identify the potential increase in taxes represented by passage of the referendum. One estimate was substantially less than the other and the lesser estimate was published. Based on the sources used, there were no errors in either calculation; but, since there was a conflict we have reviewed the data and made an adjustment to the higher tax estimate. That tax estimate is represented in the FAQs found on the district website (www.laurens55.org). For simplicity’s sake, the average homeowner (based on median home value) would pay approximately $16 per month in additional taxes if the referendum passes. Again, these are estimates because there are factors (such as the interest rate on bonds at the time of sale) that are not available until they actually occur.
We have chosen to ignore the erroneous, error-ridden comments of Jay Weisner, Keith Tripp, and others who oppose this referendum for solely economic reasons. It is their right to have their say and it is not our place to campaign for or against the referendum. Our job is to analyze the needs of our students, our parents, and our communities and make recommendations regarding the best long-term method of meeting those needs. We present our recommendations to the seven elected representatives on the school board and they either act on those recommendations, reject or modify the recommendations, or refer the issue to the community with their recommendation. This last is where we now stand on the issue of school facilities and organization. We would like to remind everyone that your elected representatives originally voted unanimously in recommending this bond to the community. In a later vote regarding the bond and the date of the referendum (moving it from May 9 to September 5), there was one dissenting vote; but, the recommendation passed by a 6 – 1 majority.
As was stated earlier, our job is not to campaign for or against the referendum. We have made our recommendation and the Board has placed the issue in the hands of the voters. We ask only that you vote for or against the referendum based on the facts of the issue. Those facts include a definite need for facility upgrades throughout the district. Piecemeal upgrades have been made in the past; but, they have failed to provide a long-term solution that meets the needs of our constituents. The building of a new high school does require an investment of personal resources by every member of this community. We cannot make any guarantees about outcomes, economic development, or growth whether the referendum passes or fails. We can only say, regardless of the outcome of the referendum, we will continue to do our best to meet the needs of every student in Laurens County School District 55.
Director of Admin. Services, District Athletics & Public Relations