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‘Why is one school never brought up?’

Blackmon says Midway Elementary needs to be part of recreation, consolidation discussions

Posted: March 20, 2014 4:50 p.m.
Updated: March 21, 2014 5:00 a.m.

Ron Blackmon, a member of the Kershaw County Board of School Trustees, wants to know why discussions on recreation programs and school consolidations never seem to include Midway Elementary School (MES).

Blackmon asked the question during the board’s meeting Tuesday night, during which Kershaw County School District (KCSD) officials and the board discussed matters concerning Phase 2 of the district’s facilities equalization plan (FEP)

After discussing some other topics, Trustee Kim DuRant brought up the proposed consolidation of rural schools, especially in the North Central area.

“The biggest amount of money is to replace the three elementary schools,” DuRant said in terms of proposed FEP Phase 2 funding. “I’m still here as a voice of my constituents. We want to keep our rural schools.”

DuRant said she would like to see other avenues explored, such as renovating Mt. Pisgah, Bethune and Baron DeKalb elementary schools.

“The biggest chunk of change (goes into) closing those schools,” she said.

KCSD Superintendent Dr. Frank Morgan said that the figures for renovating the schools could be provided at the board’s next meeting.

A short time later, Blackmon expressed his concern that MES wasn’t being included in the discussions.

“The idea to consolidate is for dollars and cents … and more opportunities,” he said. “That’s the whole point to have a new school: more programs, rec ball and a central location. We have four elementary schools in the North Central area. Why is one school never brought up in the (discussion of) recreation and central location consolidation?”

Blackmon hadn’t mentioned MES by name, so Board Chair Mara Jones asked him if that was the school to which he was referring. He said it was.

“If we’re going to consolidate one to save money … why is it we just discuss three elementary schools only and never the fourth that feeds into the North Central High School?” Blackmon asked.

Smith said it was a matter of numbers.

“Midway’s got a substantial number of kids there,” Smith said.

Blackmon, however, said students from MES would still have to travel to North Central to have recreation opportunities.

“I don’t think they feel deprived,” Jones said, referring to MES students. “I think they want to hang on to their school.”

“Well, I think Baron DeKalb and Mt. Pisgah and Bethune would want to hang on to theirs too,” Blackmon replied. “I’m just making that point. If you’re going to discuss consolidation, why is it that the three schools are always discussed, but the fourth one is not?”

Morgan said there were two reasons: one, that MES has about 440 students, approximately the same as the other three schools combined. Morgan said if all four schools were combined, that would create a school with approximately 900 students, which would be large for an elementary school.

Two, Morgan said, is that MES has already received $5 million worth of renovations. Smith added that because MES has “the numbers,” it has more opportunities, including more class offerings and having specialized professionals such as guidance counselors and speech therapists employed there full-time.

Smith said that MES students could ride buses out to the proposed North Central elementary school so they could participate in recreational activities offered there.

Jones said that all possible options needed to be investigated.

“As we’re moving forward, this is a big enough deal that we need to make sure everyone’s questions are answered,” she said.

Trustee Don Copley said he had previously requested that information be provided about the number of students attending Bethune Elementary School that live in or within two or three miles of the town of Bethune.

“I’ve also asked (about) how this would change our debt service percentage with this bond issue,” Copley said of possible Phase 2 funding. “Before I cast a vote, I’d also like to know what the projected millage rate (is) or (the) effect it would have on the taxpayers.”

Copley also said he wanted to see a map showing where students live who attend the four North Central elementary schools. Smith said a more comprehensive map could be drawn up. In response to Blackmon’s comments, Copley said a map showing where all students in the North Central area come from would need to include MES students.

“It’s a new topic that we have to consider,” he said.

Blackmon said previous maps of the areas that didn’t include MES students were “almost complete, but not quite.”

Morgan said the finance plan Copley requested would be provided Tuesday at the board’s finance and facilities meeting. Jones said she felt like the conversation trustees were having was “very important” because it ensured they were performing “due diligence.”

Also during Tuesday’s meeting, Smith presented the board with a schematic of a proposed joint Applied Technology Education Campus/economic development campus. Morgan said the drawing helped illustrate a concept for the proposed campus, but was “not a final thing.”

Blackmon said he appreciated all the work Smith has done compiling Phase 2 data and figures thus far, but wanted to ensure they were approaching a final, complete figure regarding the proposed joint campus.

The campus could be included in a Phase 2 ballot referendum for voters to consider this fall. Morgan suggested the board use its April 1 meeting to “go around the table” and come up with what trustees want to include in the referendum. He said he believes the discussion would highlight where trustees agreed and disagreed and what the board feels are the most important items to work on.

In other news, the board:

• honored winners of the superintendant’s writing competition;

• heard a proposal from Dr. Lillian Smith of the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health about a Live Well Kershaw program;

• heard an alternative education update; and

• heard legislative and weather make up reports.

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