Lack of classroom storage and sufficient lab areas, study halls being held in the cafeteria, congested hallways during class change and classes that are at capacity were some of the things pointed out during tours of North Augusta High School on Thursday.
The tours, sponsored by the high school’s School Improvement Council, invited members of the council, Parent Teacher Associations and community leaders to North Augusta High to see the school during school hours to get a firsthand feel for the school’s needs.
“Our School Improvement Council decided to create an outreach committee because we know that we need to upgrade the facilities here and when the school board put out the proposal that it would take 30 years to do all the phases because of funding, our School Improvement Council felt that this was something that we needed to take on to find a way to get the community interested in the facilities,” said Dea Baldwin, a parent and member of the council.
The Aiken County School District was presented with conceptual master plans for North Augusta, Aiken and Ridge Spring-Monetta high schools. The North Augusta High plan calls for the new high school campus to be completed in several phases during a 30-year period.
Aiken County residents voted against a bond referendum in 2010 that would have funded the district’s long-term capital projects. Now, the district is faced with seeking other funding options to address the needs of North Augusta High and other schools. The district has created the Facility Funding Options Committee, composed of board members, district staff and community representatives, to help explore ways to fund school facility projects.
Only about 25 percent of people in Aiken County have children in a district school. The task the district faces is getting the word out to the other 75 percent of the schools’ needs and getting more people on board to back funding, specifically for the long-term facility projects, board member Ray Fleming told those attending a morning tour.
Educating people about how schools are funded is one of the tasks facing those who support getting the needs addressed sooner rather than later.
“A lot of people don’t understand how we fund facilities,” Baldwin said. “They will say, ‘We have a new municipal building, why can’t they build a new school’ not understanding that it’s different pots of money. In South Carolina, the money to fund facilities comes from county property taxes.”
Perception also can have an impact on where business owners choose to locate their businesses and where parents choose to live, she added.
“Will they choose our community or not choose our community because of the schools?” she said.
While the county is still faced with finding funding for facility needs, the School Improvement Council hopes that the tours got people talking and the awareness will spread to others in the community.
“We hope they will communicate needs that they saw and open up a dialogue,” said Gwen Spivey, a ninth-grade parent representative on the council.