$47 million dollar school referendum proposal on ballot in Lee County in November


LEE COUNTY, Va. - Lee County voters get the chance to make history in November, with a $47,000,000 project on the ballot. If passed, it would be the largest educational project ever in the county.

Lee County hasn't build a new school since the 1980s, but the proposed referendum calls for the construction of two new schools.


The scene in a classroom at Flatwoods Elementary School was normal on Tuesday, but that was far cry from the day before. Video from inside the classroom shows the ceiling leaking on to the whiteboard and eventually to the floor.

"Many of our roofs are leaking," Debbie Jessee, a Lee County School Board member, says. "We are also having problems with our furnaces and the windows are old and the air goes right through them."

This isn't an isolated issue either. A facility assessment released last year shows nine of the 10 public schools in the country are in poor condition. Lee High School was the only school that did not fall into that category.

"One history class was half flooded," Mike Kidwell, the School Board Chairman, says.

Education officials say another major problem is overcrowding. At Elk Knob Elementary School, two classes share the same mobile unit in the back lot of the school.

The school board's proposed plan calls to cut the number of schools in the county from 11 to seven. It would close down Elk Knob, Elydale, Flatwoods, St. Charles, Pennington Middle, and Jonesville Middle. However, it would build two, bigger elementary schools in Pennington Gap and Jonesville. School System Superintendent Brian Austin says the new school locations are where the majority of the population lives.

"At some point, it becomes easier to do a new facility then it is to renovate," Jessee says.

The cost of the new schools however will come at the expense of the taxpayers. The board is proposing three plans, which would increase real estate taxes anywhere between six cents and 14 cents. That means a maximum increase of $140 a year per $100,000 of assessed property. The plan would also raise personal property taxes anywhere from 70 cents to $1.25, meaning an increase of up to $125 per $10,000 of value.

"There's a lot of people like myself on fixed income," Jim Heironimus, a Lee County resident says. "It's gonna be hard."

But others in the county say the school plan is an investment worth making.

"You want your kids to have a good environment to grow up and to enjoy their school experience without having to worry about falling through a hole in the floor," Allen Gibson says.

For the exact details of the proposal, including which schools will be closed, which will be renovated, and the breakdown of all three proposed tax plans, click here.

Election day is Nov. 7.

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