Greenwood Events
Thursday, May 18th, 2000
Referendums go deeper than tax hike
By Lynn R. Parks
Robert Glading sees the two recent failed Woodbridge referendums as battles between generations.
"Kids today are spoiled," said Glading, 71, Bridgeville, who voted against both tax hikes. "I feel that our youth have by and large abandoned the values of those of us who were raised in a past time. They are rude, their dress is atrocious, they are accommodated by their parents to a degree we could never have dreamed of. They show disdain for values previous generations upheld."
"Hogwash," said Ruth Ann Hamstead, coordinator for the HOSTS program at Woodbridge Elementary School, Greenwood. "We have great kids in this district who deserve the same opportunities that children who go to other districts receive."
Both the February and the May referendums asked voters to approve tax increases for school construction, teacher salaries and supplies. The February vote was on a 67.5-percent school tax increase and the May referendum asked for a 59.5-percent increase.
The bulk of the money from both referendums would have gone toward the construction of a new middle school for grades five through eight. Middle school students now attend the elementary school through the sixth grade, and then go to the high school in Bridgeville.
According to superintendent Kevin Carson, in the wake of the failed referendums the district is preparing to move in modular classrooms. The elementary school in Greenwood will get four new modular classrooms - it already has seven - and the junior-senior high school in Bridgeville will get four. It already has one trailer with two classrooms in it.
Carson said that he expects the district to grow by nearly 200 students by September. The high school will graduate 54 and next fall, will greet 162 incoming seventh graders. That creates an "interesting challenge," Carson said, one that could have been answered by construction of a middle school on school property on Adams Road, between Greenwood and Bridgeville.
But at least one Bridgeville business owner thinks that the proposed middle school was a bad idea. Michael Layton, owner of H. C. Layton and Sons Hardware, voted against the referendums in part, he said, because the district's construction plan was not reasonable.
"It should be that the high school is the school that is out in the country," he said. "That way it would be out there with the athletic facilities." Both referendums included money for construction of district and community athletic fields at the middle school site, including a new football field.
Layton added that parking at the high school is limited. "It stands to reason that they would put the high school out in the country, where there would be plenty of parking," he said.
Carson said that the decision as to what type of school would be built was not the district's to make. "A middle school was the only thing the state would approve," he said. With renovations at the elementary and high schools in 1991, the bulk of which was paid for by the state, the Department of Education ruled that a middle school was the only construction it would pay for.
"I think that it would behoove us to work with the state to get a new high school, as opposed to a middle school," said Jack Dalton, president of the Bridgeville town commission and owner of Ignition Interlock Services, Greenwood. He voted against both referendums.
"We need the new facility, but we need a full-fledged high school that is out of town. We have to work on the state level to get things done right. If the referendum was for a new high school, I would vote for it."
But the cost of high school construction is considerably higher than that of a middle school, Carson said. "That would be an additional $2.6 million to build even the smallest high school," he said. "If I can't pass a referendum for a $12 million middle school, do you think I could do it for a $15 million high school?"
Probably not, according to Layton, who owns a home in the Woodbridge School District in addition to his business. He also voted against the referendum because he felt the tax increase request was too high. "It is just not fair to make business owners and homeowners pay that high a tax," he said.
The district tried to address complaints that property owners are unfairly hit when it comes to school taxes by including in the second referendum a boost in the capitation tax, or "head tax," from $7.70 per resident to $24.80. But, said Layton, the county "doesn't make any kind of effort to collect the head tax."
After the first referendum, "we removed a lot of things we thought were deterrents," said Carson. The second referendum did not ask for money for a new administrative building, as the first did, and some renovations to existing buildings were scrapped. "We tried to listen, and we got beat even worse."
But that does not mean that they will not try again. While the district cannot hold another referendum for one year, Carson said that a tax increase request at the end of that year is "very likely."
"Every opportunity I have to go back and ask for help for our kids, I will go back," he said. "If there is no referendum, that means that I am giving up on the kids."
The specifics of the next referendum have yet to be decided, he added. The Raider Committee, a group of volunteers which recommended this year's two referendums, will begin meeting within 30 days, he said, and will probably have a recommendation for the board this summer.
Glading said that he can't imagine any school referendum for which he would vote. Like Layton, he felt that the tax increase request was too high and that property owners pay a disproportionate share of school taxes. He also lists a recent state Senate decision that overruled a House recommendation that the state take over all school construction costs as reason to vote against the tax hike. "I voted no in retribution for that decision," he said.
"A proposal like that never came to a vote in the Senate," said state Sen. Thurman Adams (D-Bridgeville). "Even if we did that, where is the money going to come from? The state could pay for everything, but it is all taxpayers' money. There is no free money."
Pam Miller, whose son Robert is in the first grade at Woodbridge Elementary and daughter, Amber, is in the fifth grade, is elementary school PTA president and a member of the Raider Committee. She agrees with Glading that some children are not respectful. "But I would say this to Mr. Glading: If he doesn't support the referendum, then that is all he has to look forward to. A lot of our children don't get good discipline and structure at home. If we can't give it to them at school, they are never going to get it."
"Our kids bring a lot of challenges to school today," said Carson. "For someone to say that school is the same as it was even 20 or 30 years ago, they don't have a good grasp on reality."
"I am a senior citizen," said Hamstead, 60. "I don't have children in the district and I will never have grandchildren in the district. But I live in this community and I want to see that children who will stay here are well-educated and will be able to carry on this community so that we grow prosperous in the 21st century. I am very disappointed that people didn't see the need for the referendum."