A brick security fence proposed for Scotland High School has come to symbolize the wall dividing Scotland County Board of Commissioners and the school system over money.
The fence, which is projected to cost around $75,000, was part of a capital outlay budget that included more than half a million in proposed expenditures which the county would bear responsibility for. The project was discussed Tuesday when school officials presented their budget to commissioners.
Commissioner John Cooley cited it as evidence that the school system has not made cuts commensurate to those put into place by the rest of the county.
“Maybe I’m chicken for bringing this up after they’ve gone back, but a ‘brick wall’? You’re talking about a castle, a kingdom here, folks” Cooley said after school system Superintendent Rick Stout and schools Maintenance Director Roger Ammons had departed the budget workshop.
“They’re not cutting back, not like us,” commented Cooley.
Adding to the criticism was Scotland County Manager Kevin Patterson, who noted the distinct nature of the end-of-financial-year e-mails sent out by the respective bodies.
Patterson said while the county is asking its departments to prepare for cuts, “(the school system) is sending out e-mails saying ‘We need you to spend the remainder of your budgets.’”
In defense of the school’s spending, school finance officer Jay Toland noted that the school system has made numerous cuts to staff, and that it has enacted an energy management program that has “yielded positive results.”
“We used (local funds) to save as many (positions) as possible,” said Toland of the cash that the school system has received from the county.
According to Toland, local funds support 44 teaching positions and the positions of three teacher’s assistants.
Toland added that the squeeze resulting from the county receiving nearly $1-million less from the state for drops in its average daily student attendance has contributed to its current budget challenge.
“All we’re looking for is fairness,” said Cooley in response to a brief back-and-forth between Stout and board Chairman Bob Davis.
Stout then directed his attention to the county tax card, which currently lists a “school tax” item (the sum which the county provides the school system as a result of the current school funding formula), commenting that the itemization of a “school tax” makes the school floor a continued “vocal piece for everyone in the county around tax time.”
“The misconception about the school system is tremendous,” said Stout. Stout then continued by defending the performance record of the school system, which he said is often thought of as a negative “just like the school funding formula, which provides a lot of employment for the county.”
Talk then returned to the capital outlay budget, which would require approximately as much from the county as it is currently projecting in deficit (over $500,000).
According to Ammons, the fence would be brick and approximately six-feet in height with the goal of “keeping people from coming in off of the street and onto the Scotland High School campus.”
While it would not surround the school or obscure the public’s view of the school, Ammons said the proposed fence “would fill in the gaps between the buildings on SHS’s currently open campus.”
There are also several access points in the wall, all of which would require key card access for increased security.
“As far as safety and security are concerned, we consider this one of our top priorities,” said Ammons, whose department has lost five employees due to budget cuts during the current fiscal year.
Asked why the fence must be brick, rather than of a less expensive construction like chain-link, Ammons noted that the goal was to avoid a “penal look.”
“We would like to make it aesthetically pleasing,” said Ammons.