Originally created 11/14/97

Educators complain roads too expensive



COLUMBIA -- Educators say they have enough trouble paying for equipment and supplies inside schools and should not have to hand over more money to pay for roads leading to those buildings.

During the past decade, more and more districts have been forced by the state to pay for road repairs and improvements near new and renovated schools.

"There has been a shift in the responsibility of who pays for the improvements of off-site roads," said Al Berry, a local consultant who works with school districts on building projects. "More requirements are being placed on school districts."

The state Education Department, School Boards Association and Association of School Administrators want legislators to force someone else to pay for road work.

"In the old days, the Department of Transportation used to pave driveways up to the doorway of the schools," said John Kent, director of the Education Department's office of district facilities management. "They met whatever the needs were."

Today, the department tells the districts what to do.

Districts must meet the department's requirements to receive a permit that allows them to pave driveways connecting parking lots with state roads.

Often those requirements mean widening roads, adding turn lanes, even reconfiguring intersections.

Mark Faulk, the Transportation Department's site-planning coordinator for schools, said the department began taking a more active interest in roads near schools about four years ago. The department became more interested because of problems created when traffic backs up as vehicles wait to enter school grounds.

"Our main concern is for the safety of the children" and others using the roads, Faulk said.

Educators point out that school-related traffic is not the only traffic on the roads.

"Right now, the majority of off-site roadwork is paid for by local school districts," said Bill Wiseman, a consultant for Southern Management, which works with Richland District 1 on its construction projects.

In the past, roads surrounding schools were paid for with so-called C-funds, money raised from the state gasoline tax and allocated to each county according to how much gas motorists' bought. These days, more projects compete for that money.

"These requirements have become much more costly," said Robert Scarborough, executive director of the state Association of School Administrators. "It's not `us vs. them.' ... We would like to come together, to work together. But we need school funds for classrooms."