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  • Writer's pictureKen Buck

Two 'speeding trains' are coming our way in Lancaster County schools

As I enter the last six months of my first term on the Lancaster County School Board – and unsure of exactly when I will be able to run again for the newly created board seat – I have begun to ponder what faces this school board going forward. While the national media and political pundits debate what they believe are the most pressing issues facing schools in the United States, many of those items are not as germane at the local level in our county as one may assume. As I see it, going forward there are two very pressing issues facing our board, one of which is a national problem that will begin to have local consequences very soon, and the other is a hyperlocal issue. Both are the proverbial speeding train coming down the tracks that the board and the county cannot ignore nor from which we can become distracted. Let us first dive into the national problem that will eventually have local impact: the teacher shortage. Candidly, it is going to take a real “thinking outside of the box” mindset for the entire Lancaster County community to head off this “speeding train.” Nationally, teachers are leaving the field in record numbers, and to make matters worse, fewer and fewer younger people are going into teaching as a career option. The nation and the state of South Carolina are losing teachers in record numbers. At some point, this will likely impact us locally – that’s a statistical given. The reasons for this impending crisis are many and not easily explained here; however, know that addressing this issue is of the utmost importance. While better teacher pay will help, it will not fix the long terms problems. To boil it down in simple terms, it is more about the working conditions under which the 21st Century teacher in America has to try to educate. It will take the School Board, the school district, and the entire community working together to help Lancaster County mitigate this problem locally. We may not be able to solve the problem that is occurring nationally, but we can work together for the common goal of making our schools the most attractive to the teachers that are still in the field. The second “speeding train” that Lancaster County must handle are the needs in Indian Land brought on by growth, as well as the capital needs around the rest of the county. It is no secret that Indian Land is growing at a rate that is perhaps unrivaled in the state right now. The refrain of “build more schools!” is easier said than done but it is vital that the school board work with the communities of the county to handle the growth and needs.

But the devil is in the details: finding methods to fund those projects. We have the pleasure in South Carolina of some of the cheapest real estate taxes but that also means that “extra money” for new schools and school improvements is not there.

I am proud to say that one of my biggest accomplishments on the board thus far was leading the fight to get impact fees as a reality for new residential construction in the Panhandle after repeatedly being told that it wasn’t a good fit for Lancaster County. Since S.C. Act 388 effectively removes school taxes from primary residential homes in the state, impact fees will force developers to help pay for infrastructure needs. It is important, however, to know that impact fees alone will not build new schools. Laws that limit the amount and use of impact fees make that improbable. They can help – but they can’t fix the needs problem alone. Other sources of funding will have to be found by the school board and the community will have to be a part of that. That will be the challenge for the board; not just identifying the needs, which is already underway, but rather coming up with the funding to actually address those needs. National hot button topics regarding “what’s wrong with schools” are not nearly the issue locally one might presume – the incoming “speeding trains” of a national teacher shortage and handling growth are the two biggest issues that I see that this board will have to face locally going forward. To solve both is going to take the help and input of our communities as well. Both problems are far too big not to have the communities – which have such at stake in our local schools – directly helping to solve.

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