LEXINGTON, S.C. – Is it OK for public school officials to berate citizens for being concerned about potential corruption and waste of their tax dollars?
Residents of Lexington County School District One in South Carolina were recently upset when they learned that their school board voted unanimously to pay $982,980 for 55 acres of vacant land to build a new middle school, even though its appraised value was only $144,440.
That’s a difference of $838,540, or 680 percent above the appraisal.
Residents were even more alarmed when they learned that the seller of the property was none other than Jean Nichols Haggard, a retired principal and former school board member, and her brother.
The family has a long history with Lexington One. Both of Haggard’s parents were principals in the district, according to a news report from The State.
All of that is enough to raise the eyebrows of concerned citizens in any community, in any state.
“People are really concerned,” State Rep. L. Kit Spires was quoted as saying by The State. “People are not concerned about building a middle school. They’re not concerned about the location. But the price seems a little extravagant.
“Teachers don’t have enough money to buy supplies and (the board) can spend this amount of money on property?”
Considering the inflated purchase price and the cozy relationship with the seller, school board members should not have been surprised by the public reaction.
But in an open letter defending the purchase, they seemed offended.
“Who owns the property has nothing to do with the land purchase,” the board’s letter said. “Some people have expressed a belief that the district purchased this site because of its past relationship with the owners. That is ridiculous.”
Some might consider it ridiculous for elected officials to expect citizens to quietly accept such an odd purchase, at such a seemingly inflated price.
But obviously, some public officials prefer quiet, uninformed citizens who never ask questions. That makes it much easier to do what they want, when they want, with taxpayer money.