Development leader says improving schools essential

February 25, 2019 GMT

FLORENCE, S.C. – Florence County Economic Development Board Chairman Rocky Pearce said improving the education system and buildings is essential for the growth of Florence.

Pearce was talking about Tuesday’s referendum on a proposed bond issue for new buildings and improvements to schools in the Florence One Schools district.

“Education is the key to our future,” Pearce said. “Everywhere, all across the country, there’s labor shortages — and the new jobs and careers we are looking for, engineering and high tech, we have to have an educated workforce.”

Pearce said it is not only important to have buildings and worksites to recruit new industry but also to make sure that there are enough skilled people in the workforce. He said he thinks everyone in the community wants to see the buildings in Florence One Schools be improved, but everyone must find a common ground with how to go about fixing schools in the district.

“I think we need to do something,” Pearce said. “I hate that there’s controversy over this, because I think everyone wants to support our children, but it’s just gotten off track in the discussion. We need to discuss how to move forward.”

The tax increase to pay for the proposed $198 million bond issue is large, but it is critical to work in the schools, Pearce said.

“It’s a big one,” Pearce said. “I’ll say that, and I think that is what’s got everybody’s interest at this point in time. That’s a significant impact. In my opinion, I consider it an investment in our future. I don’t think we can make everybody happy no matter what we do.”

Billy Isgett, owner of Eyecare of Florence and a former school board member, said he does not support the referendum proposal, because raising property taxes could hurt small businesses. He said people would have less money to spend because of the tax increase.

“What we don’t know is what we fear,” Isgett said. “The unkown is that when the property taxes go up, who’s going to be most affected by that. If it is people who can afford it, then they may go on and not bother us, but if it’s people who can’t afford it, they may have to make choices and choose not to buy glasses.”

Jill Lewis, the chairman of the Florence County Progress board, said for industry to thrive in the Florence area, the education system must be improved.

“We have lost companies and we’ve lost people because we didn’t have a No. 1 or Triple A education system, and we know that these things have to be done,” Lewis said. “It’s hard for people. That goes for the bigger businesses we bring in, the more it feeds the small businesses in the area.”

Lewis said investing in schools would help economic development, because the more businesses that come to the city would allow for more people moving here and spending their money in the city. She also said having better school facilities will draw more teachers to come to the Florence One Schools and allow current teachers incentive to stay in the city.

“It’s for Florence, it’s for our community, and it’s for our kids,” Lewis said.