LEXINGTON COUNTY, SC (WIS) - Don Leaden and son have taken a stand by planting a sign along Highway 178 near Pelion. The sign announces their support of Lexington School District One's efforts to build a new Pelion Middle School.
"My son is a middle school student right now at the old school, and he's got tiles falling down on him," said Leaden.
Lexington One's solution is a 55-acre property near the corner of Highway 178 and Fish Hatchery Road. It's a property that's divided the community.
County records show it was only valued at $144,400, but last week, the school board voted unanimously to buy it for $982,980 – close to a million dollars. They bought it from a former school board member.
Superintendent Dr. Greg Little wasn't expecting the backlash.
"Well, to be honest, I actually wasn't, because it is such a great piece of property," he said.
In an interview, Dr. Little defended the purchase.
"I can assure you that the property in Pelion is one of the most perfect pieces of property we've ever purchased," he said.
Dr. Little said the property's location and its access to water, sewer, and roads could save taxpayers millions of dollars – despite the bigger cost upfront to buy it from former board member Jean Haggard.
"Can you say 100% that Ms. Haggard owning that property had nothing to do with the purchase?" WIS asked him.
"I can tell you 100%. We do not care – I do not care – who owns that property," he answered.
Little also defended the district's transparency, even though critics say they were kept in the dark until after the big vote.
"Why can't you take your public agenda and put 'purchase of land on xyz road for xyz amount'? Why can't you do that?" WIS asked the superintendent.
"One issue is we're in negotiations," Little answered. "Those negotiations can't be done in public."
"Is there a happy medium that could be possibly reached in the future?" WIS asked.
"To be honest with you, we'd have to take a look at that. That's something I'd have to talk to the board about in terms of what their pleasure is in terms of how we can communicate land purchases in the future," Little responded.
Little concluded that he and the board made a decision in the best interest of Lexington One students – a decision to replace a facility that he described as the district's worst.
"There are people out in the community who came up to my car yesterday and used words like 'good ole boy system' or 'insider trading' and they attacked the integrity of your district. What do you say in response?" WIS asked him.
"When you talk about the 'good ole boy system' understand that I've been a South Carolinian for two years. Understand that I'm not from around here. I didn't grow up here. I came to Lexington, South Carolina, because I felt led," Little answered. "So when I hear terms like 'insider trading' and I hear terms like 'good ole boy system,' I consider those to be uninformed opinions."