Former assistant transportation director with Halifax County Public Schools Keith McDowell has announced his candidacy for the ED-7 seat on Halifax County School Board.
“I am a humble Christian with deep moral values, integrity and a strong conviction of doing what is right for our students, parents, staff and all of the citizens of Halifax County,” said McDowell who qualified for the November ballot in the spring.
“I can not and will not be bought or influenced by any special interest groups,” he added.
Born on Aug. 4, 1958 in Greensville, South Carolina, he was raised in Person County, North Carolina, and attended schools in Person County School District. He completed his education in Lexington, Kentucky, and graduated as a certified welder.
He is the “proud father of two successful” adult children who graduated from Halifax County Public Schools and nine grandchildren who currently attend.
He is the CEO and owner of McDowell Diesel, and has worked as turbine specialist for General Electric Turbine and Consolidated Freight Lines.
He worked in Halifax County Public School’s transportation department as a shop foreman and then assistant director from 1991 to 2018 when he retired.
Throughout his time working in the transportation department he managed the area of purchasing buses including grant writing.
“I had tremendous success in acquiring savings and grants while employed with the school system,” said McDowell.
If elected, he would like to provide guidance to the transportation department on policy, spending and grant writing.
“Our transportation department is the largest part of the yearly budget with the exception of employee salaries,” he added.
If elected to the school board, he also has the following goals in mind:
• Make the school system more productive and efficient in regards to budget and spending to ensure all departments are frugal and held accountable for such;
• Have a business mind approach to spending in the day-to-day operations of the school system while striving to do more with less;
• Present and support a common sense policy for the good of all students and staff;
• Promote school safety and implement any plan necessary to achieve and maintain a safe environment for the children and employees;
• Have zero tolerance for drugs, violence or disruption of any kind in the county’s educational facilities;
• Ensure that new and current policies are being followed and omit or revise any policy that does not have substance; and
• Always ensure that God and prayer are welcome through the school division and activities.
He has followed the school board’s discussion on renovating or building a new Halifax County High School, and he “absolutely does not support the construction of a new high school and will never vote or support such.
“In the (former) interim county administrator Dan Sleeper’s words, ‘It is an unrealistic request’,” said McDowell.
“Halifax County economy and taxpayers cannot sustain the debt of a $100 million school and a $10 million football stadium,” he added.
With a 30-year loan including interest, he projects it would compute to the county tax base owing just over $210 million on one school and football stadium.
“The school division currently has approximately $40 million still owed in debt services for the construction of South Boston Elementary School, Cluster Springs Elementary School and the renovation of the middle school. That debt will not be satisfied until 2027,” said McDowell, who added, “I support the needed repairs and upgrades to our high school, within reason, as funding and the budget allows.”
Voters will have the chance to vote on whether or not Halifax County should be authorized to levy a general retail sales tax at a rate not to exceed 1% provided the revenue from the sales tax shall be used solely for capital projects for the construction or renovation of schools in Halifax County and would expire by Sept. 30, 2051.
McDowell said he would only support the referendum if it is used for repairs for all school buildings.
“We have multiple school buildings that are in disarray and desperate need of repairs, not just the high school,” he added. “I dissect these issues with a business mind approach versus having tunnel vision on one issue.”
If the referendum passes, he said it is projected to create approximately $100 million of tax revenue over a 30-year time span.
“That sounds great when you are building a $110 million school. However, let’s not forget that the interest will have to be paid in that same 30 years which is projected to be a minimum of $100 million with a grand total of the high school construction project and a new football stadium cost of approximately $210 million interest included,” said McDowell.
He projects an increase of 14 cents per 100 to property taxes would be needed to pay the remaining balance. Property taxes currently stand at 52 cents per $100 value.
Davenport Financial Advisors told the county a tax increase of 28 cents per $100 value would be needed to fund the high school project if the 1% sales tax increase were not put into place.
“That will put our tax base at 80 cents per $100 of value,” said McDowell.
Clover Power Station is the largest tax base income to the county, and he said if that were to close, it would put property taxes at risk to be increased again.
Even without the possibility of losing Clover Power Station, he projects personal property taxes will increase to 66 cents per $100 of value.
“That will put our tax base just under the tax base of rural Washington, D.C.,” said McDowell.
He said the county’s return on investment will be one new school building and a new football stadium whereas Washington, D.C.’s return is “police, fire and rescue services with an average of a four minute response time to any catastrophic or emergency event.”
He also said they have “superb infrastructure such as roads, water, internet service and sewer” as well as “very modern educational systems and facilities in place,” “public transportation system in place” and “extremely high paying jobs with great benefit packages.
“From a business standpoint, it is unrealistic,” said McDowell. “We have to ask ourselves a fair question: who will repay the major portion of this debt? Will it be the average taxpayer of 50 years old or older? Will it be the school superintendent? Will it be the school board members? The citizens that will bear the biggest burden of repayment is our children. We all hear let’s do what is best for our children, and I would like to think that is our intent. However, is this what is best for our children?”
He anticipates that current fifth graders and high school aged children will be saddled with the largest portions of this debt, if they return to he county, all while trying to start a career and raise a family while paying off college debt.
“I do not see our county being appealing to them or others to locate here. I see it as being a poor return on such a large investment when so many other localities will offer so much more return for the same investment,” said McDowell.
As far as the high school project, he said the school board and county’s approach is to pass the bill then decide whether or not to repair or build.
“Personally, I don’t feel good about that approach. I prefer honesty and transparency,” said McDowell.
The school system also faces a capital improvement plan totaling more than $6 million worth of HVAC, roofing and windows replacement needs for various schools throughout the county. The plan calls for work to be done throughout 2018 to 2024.
There also is a projected school bus replacement schedule in the works with the school system looking to replace 10 school buses for 10 years at a cost of approximately $95,000 per bus, not including interest.
He said that translates to $1 million per year.
“We absolutely cannot fund the new high school and football stadium project, the capital improvement plan for all school buildings in need of repair, the school bus replacement and continue to manage the day to day costs of running our school system. I implore you to just do the math,” said McDowell.
He believes there is a chance for one of three things to happen.
He believes a new high school will be built with or without the 1% sales tax, or the high school can be repaired along with other county schools with the 1% sales tax increase.
He thinks the high school can be repaired along with all county school buildings with the 1% sales tax increase without any other additional tax increase needed.
“Taking into account the information I provided, I feel that we have bigger issues than just the high school and football stadium,” said McDowell.
“If elected, I vow to work hard as a board member with an open mind, clean conscious, in respect for what is best for our county as a whole, our students and staff,” he concluded.
If anyone would like to contact McDowell, he can be reached at 434-579-9110 or email email@example.com.