The beloved and revered CBS Broadcaster, Walter Cronkite, once said, ‘In seeking the truth, you have to get both sides of the story.’ In this day and age, this statement could not ring more true.
This is a unique time in the life of our school system. Faced with a declining enrollment, aging schools, buildings that are being used under capacity, a lack of equity and diversity amongst our schools, and fewer financial resources have brought us to a place where we have had to make some difficult decisions about the future of our schools. And as we have said before, these decisions have not been made lightly nor without the input and insight from a variety of stakeholders. Even though every board member has personal connections to the potentially affected schools, we have tried to look objectively at what’s best for our district as a whole – not only what’s best today, but what places our district in the best position to provide the most opportunities for our students in the future as well.
We understand that these decisions have garnered much discussion and debate and that there is a lot of misinformation that continues to be repeated throughout the community. We also know that, although our decisions are made with intentions of what’s best for our district, our schools, our staff, our community, but most importantly, our students, that our decisions are not always going to be popular ones. We are asking the community to listen to both sides.
As members of the board of education, we wanted to again take this opportunity to share with our stakeholders the correct information – the truth – about a few of the most common misconceptions that are being repeated in our community:
Myth — Classes will be overcrowded
Fact – Class size allocations will remain the same as they have in years past with the following class size allocations being in place: K-3=1 to 21; grades 4-5= 1 to 24; grades 6-8= 1 to 26; and grades 9-12= 1 to 29
The state limits class sizes for K-3 = 1 to 24 students. For grades 4-12, the State does not put limitations on class sizes; however the board continues to remain committed to small class sizes and uses the above allocations.
There is legislation (HB 1030) in place to further reduce the class size in 2017-18 to kindergarten 1:18; 1st grade 1:16; and 2nd and 3rd grade 1:17. However, districts are pushing back against this legislation hoping to get it appealed.
Myth — Taxes will be raised
Fact — The new school would be paid for by the savings realized through consolidation. We had an independent financial group verify that our plan does save money and that the new school and school additions can be paid for by the cost savings that will occur because of consolidation, and that no new funds will need to be requested from the county or our taxpayers for consolidation. Beginning with the 2016-17 school year and for the next two school years, our board has agreed to a 2.25 percent ($243K) reduction in funding as compared to the funding received during the 2015-16 school year. We want to continue to be able to reduce the commissioners’ annual financial obligation to the school system and this consolidation plan will allow us to do that as well.
Myth — Schools that are closed will be left empty.
Fact — Since the beginning of the consolidation discussions, our Board vowed not to leave buildings empty in our community. We would sell them, or if they didn’t sell, they would be torn down. Pate-Gardner was sold to a church that is committed to community outreach and the sale of Washington Park has gotten a lot of interest…and bids. The upset bid process is ongoing. As the consolidation process moves forward, even before some of our other buildings are available, interested parties have inquired about purchasing them.
Myth – It’s better to renovate existing schools
Fact — It doesn’t solve the capacity or equity issue. And prior to the first phase of consolidation, the average age of our schools was 50 years old. Often times, in the long run, it’s more cost effective to build a new facility rather than having to continuously invest funds into older buildings’ capital needs.
Myth — Bus ride times extended
Fact – The vast majority of bus ride times are under an hour and the majority of those that are over an hour are routes where students that are attending a middle school out of their district to attend the AIG Magnet Program or the STEM Academy or are EC routes which, by nature, take extra time at bus stops. Additionally, some of our EC buses pick up students throughout the district to transport them to schools with specific programs (i.e. Autism classes, self-contained classes, Occupational Course of Study at SHS, etc.). It’s important to know as well that on average, bus ride times have not increased since consolidation. It’s also important to mention that it would be a rarity for any district to claim that they don’t have any buses whose routes are less than an hour.
We hope that these facts will clarify some of the misinformation that you may have heard or seen in the community, in the media, or on social media. As always, please reach out to any and each board member directly with your questions. Our district administration is also available to provide any information that you may need. The only thing we ask of our stakeholders is that when seeking the truth, learn both sides of the story, keep an open mind, and realize that we all share the common desire to do what’s best for our children.
This article was contributed by members of the Scotland County Schools Board of Education. They are: Jeff Byrd, chair, Darrel ‘BJ’ Gibson, vice-chair, Charles Brown, Wayne Cromartie, Pat Gates, Raymond Hyatt, Summer Stanley, and Jamie Sutherland.