Voters reject $109 million bond referendum

LAURENS, SC (WSPA) – A divided community made its voice heard loud and clear Tuesday. Laurens District 55 voters shuts down plans to build a new high school with a $109 million dollar bond.

A round of applause at the Kids First Laurens future headquarters marked the end of a months-long journey.

Supporters of the $109 million bond referendum watched on as Laurens County School District Superintendent Dr. Stephen Peters talked about the defeat.

“We never imagined it would be as divisive an issue as it became,” Dr. Peters read from a statement. “While disappointed with the outcome of today’s referendum, there is a greater concern.”

Signs placed all over District 55 compelling voters to choose yes or no for a tax increase to pay for a new high school campus.

“We feel compelled to call on all leaders of our community to come together to find ways to heal the wounds of division that have become so evident throughout this referendum,” he said.

It’s a concern Keith Tripp says is also evident, after he helped lead the opposing campaign against the referendum.

“The community is divided,” said Tripp. “There were some things said by people in positions of power that inflamed the situation.”

That situation that brought more than 8,500 people to vote. The unofficial numbers are 23% voting yes and almost 77% voted no for the bond.

“[I feel] wonderful,” said Tripp, after watching the results roll in at the county council chambers. “I’m humbled. I think it shows Laurens District 55 common sense reigns tonight.”

The night leaves both sides looking ahead.

“Now it is imperative that we once again find that common ground and build a brighter Bridge to the future,” said Dr. Peters.

The election office says more than 36% of the district’s roughly 23,000 eligible voters made their voices heard.

Read Dr. Peters’ full statement below:

Good Evening Ladies and Gentlemen:

Several months ago, we embarked on a journey to bring a brighter future to the children of Laurens County School District 55. We never imagined it would be as divisive an issue as it became. While we are very disappointed with the outcome of today’s referendum, there is a greater concern. We feel compelled to call on all the leaders of our communities to come together to find ways to heal the wounds of division that have become so evident.

Black, white, Hispanic, or other; Republican, Democrat, Tea Party, or Independent; we all have a civic duty that has been ignored for too long. Too many stand rigid in their idealism and reluctant to compromise in fear of losing their own relevance. Our founding fathers created this nation through civil discourse and a desire to find common ground for the greater good. A pattern that, until recent decades, has held our nation in good stead and helped build opportunity for the people this nation served.

Now, it is imperative that we, once again, find that common ground and build a brighter bridge to the future. In the weeks ahead, we will be calling on our communities to become true partners in the future of LCSD 55. It is a future that must include greater support, greater access, and greater opportunities for all the children we serve. It is a future that cannot be created in isolation. We must seek to join the greater world around us, to

advance our communities into the heart of the 21st century, and to make Laurens County a place we can all be proud to call home. Our public education system is about much more than personal achievement; it is about preparing people to work together to advance, not just themselves but society, as a whole.

As we move forward, we are committed to full community inclusion in our efforts. But, that inclusion requires civility, constructive dialogue, and a common belief in our ability to find righteous compromise as a product of our work. We can be better; we must be better.

Finally, we want to thank the many people who provided both direct and indirect support throughout this experience. The names are too many to mention and their contributions too lengthy to list. We say to each of you collectively, God bless you and may God bless Laurens County School District 55 and all the communities we serve.