From The Daniel Island News|
BCSD still trying to secure land for DI schools
By Elizabeth Bush
Mar 20, 2013 - 9:12:59 AM
They now have the funding for two new facilities to serve Daniel Island and Cainhoy students, but as of yet Berkeley County School District officials do not know exactly where those facilities will be placed.
Since voters passed a $198 bond referendum for school construction and renovation last November, the district has been steadily working towards fulfilling its promise to build five new schools and make improvements to 29 others. The Daniel Island community is expected to get a new high school out of the project and another facility for which grade configurations have yet to be announced. According to Board Chair Doug Cooper, the district has divided their efforts into two major groups. One includes facilities and renovation efforts that can be targeted immediately, and another includes those projects for which land has yet to be secured. The Daniel Island facilities fall into the latter category.
“The site selection process is ongoing and the district and board of education team is looking at many locations that may or may not be feasible,” said Amy Kovach, spokesperson for the Berkeley County School District. “…The district is taking every precaution to identify sites that do not interfere with our natural resources…And we are working through the many legal, financial, regulatory and non-regulatory issues (such as permitting, transportation right-of-ways, sewer, electric, and utility services) that must be appropriately managed for any project of this size and scope.”
“There really isn’t much land available,” said Cooper, a Daniel Island resident. “But we’re pretty close. I think we’ve chosen where we’d like to have the high school…We’re looking at what’s available on Daniel Island and just off Daniel Island and any other place we can find some land big enough without all of the wetlands.”
Among the locations under consideration is a parcel of land on property owned by the family of Harry Frank Guggenheim, who at one time held more than 10,000 acres on the Daniel Island/Cainhoy Peninsula. The site is situated about eight miles north of Daniel Island near the Clements Ferry Road corridor. If proper locations for the new schools are acquired within the next couple of months, Cooper hopes to be able to start “no later than June” on architect solutions. The next round in the process will focus on contractor selections, followed by public meetings to gather input from the community.
“I’m an optimist,” said Cooper. “I’m hopeful we can have (the meetings) in the June/July time frame, before everybody goes back to school…The quicker we get the land secured, the quicker we can move forward.”
District employees focus of investigation for alleged referendum activities
One new development that has created what Cooper called “a major distraction” for district officials is the recent launching of an investigation by the State Ethics Commission and the State Law Enforcement Division concerning the district’s handling of certain “Yes4Schools” campaign activities. Led by community volunteers, including Daniel Island resident Chad Vail, the purpose of the fall 2012 campaign was to promote the bond referendum and educate the community about why it was needed. By law, the district cannot use its own resources (public funds, property or time) to influence the outcome of an election. The South Carolina Attorney General’s Office reportedly requested the investigation following accusations submitted by Daniel Island attorney Josh Whitley, an opponent of the referendum and founder of Berkeley Citizens for Sustainable Education. According to published reports, Whitley provided the information after examining emails written by Kovach, Superintendent Rodney Thompson and Assistant Superintendent Archie Franchini. When asked to comment about the allegations, Whitley offered the following statement to The Daniel Island News.
“I cannot comment beyond confirming that I turned over all evidence to the South Carolina Attorney General due to my belief that the evidence showed serious, systematic, and continuous unethical or illegal activities being conducted out of the district office with authorization or at least the complicity of several members of the school board.”
The Berkeley County School District issued a statement last week claiming that the school board believes district employees’ “acts or omissions in connection with the school improvement referendum were in good faith and in the scope of their employment.”
“I can’t say anything about it other than to tell you we fully support all of our employees and feel they have always acted in the best interest of the students of Berkeley County,” added Cooper, who acknowledged that the district has agreed to pay for “reasonable and customary” legal costs to support the employees being targeted by the investigation. “We apologize if something has been misinterpreted, but there was no mal-intent involved.”
According to the State Ethics Commission website, if an individual is found guilty of an alleged violation the Commission may recommend administrative or disciplinary action, issue a public warning or reprimand, order restitution, and levy a civil penalty of up to $2000. Those found guilty of a criminal action by the State Attorney General’s Office would be subject to a fine of up to $5000, imprisonment for not more than one year, or both.
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