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Board asks for clarification of language before voting

Posted: June 19, 2014 5:25 p.m.
Updated: June 20, 2014 5:00 a.m.

Former Kershaw County Board of School Trustees member and Bethune resident Jim Smith addressed the board at their Tuesday meeting this week.

“I went to the Bethune town council meeting the other night and I had a purpose. First of all, I was furious … I realized those people have been beat over the head with ‘I’m going to close your schools,’ for 35 years, and they done it to the high school and then right back, they’re going to close the elementary schools … they’re just beat down,” Smith said.

Smith said he told Bethune residents at the council meeting, “Don’t lash out at board members who’ve worked diligently and hard over the last five or six years … to keep those schools open because they believed in the small school concept. I know it costs a lot, a lot of things cost a lot, but I feel like those little kids are worth it. I feel no different than I did when I sat on this board and I made it clear to all of you, including administration, I would never vote to close those rural schools because of the distance those kindergarteners and little children (would have to travel to get to school).”

Smith said he understood the decision to consolidate Baron DeKalb, Bethune and Mt. Pisgah Elementary schools was an economic decision.

“Nobody wants to do those children the way we’re having to do them,” he said. “I’ve struggled for answers for 12 years, what can we do?”

He also said that if all consolidation efforts were “all about money,” he worried about other “expensive” students, such as those in the special needs programs and those on the free and reduced lunch program.

During the board’s discussion of Facilities Equalization Plan Phase 2 Referendum language, trustee Kim Durant said that due to confusion during the June 3 meeting, she would like to rescind the vote “to close the three schools.”

“I would like to add, if we could leave the three elementary schools intact and put a monetary amount on each school for upgrades,” Durant said.

Kershaw County School District Superintendent Dr. Frank Morgan said according to Robert’s Rule of Order, Durant would need to ask for a moment to rescind and “if that passes, then you can make a motion that the project list be changed to reflect not closing any of the three small schools, but rather putting a certain amount of money aside to upgrade those three schools.”

Morgan said Durant would need five votes for the motion to pass. Durant made a motion to rescind the June 3 vote to approve the Phase 2 list of projects. The motion failed. Durant clarified she had never been in favor of consolidating the three rural elementary schools.

Regarding the four referendum questions, trustee Nissary Wood said she wasn’t comfortable voting on the proposed questions for the ballot.

“In reading and looking at these, I personally need more time to go over the language and fully understand. I don’t feel comfortable in voting for something I don’t completely understand,” she said.

Wood said the language was vague and she worried her constituents would feel the same way. She pointed out the questions made mention of acquiring land.

“During the discussion, we’ve never discussed that we would have to purchase land,” Wood said.

She noted that in every question, there was mention of land acquisition.

Morgan said during Phase 1, the purchase of easements during construction was an unexpected land acquisition. He said it wasn’t apparent at the beginning of the project that the easement would need to be purchased, so that language in the question was there to cover situations that might arise.

Trustee Matt Irick suggested the board look at ballots from other school districts such as Lexington 5 that have had successful referendums passed. Trustee Louis Clyburn said he felt an overly long question would not be read completely by voters.

Trustee Derrick Proctor said, “I don’t want anyone to think we’re trying to pull anything over them because there is no mention of closing the three elementary schools in this referendum … it’s the same thing with Zemp Stadium, I don’t think there should be anything hidden.”

Morgan said clarification could be added to the ballot. Board chairman Mara Jones suggested trustees go through the specific language of each question and discuss what language worked and what did not. Wood said with clarification and proper planning, the board wouldn’t have to go back and change the message presented to their constituents regarding Phase 2 referendum language.

Trustee Ron Blackmon agreed, saying, “people need to know in detail as much as possible what they’ll be voting on.”

Jones said that at the board’s next finance and facilities meeting, their attorney would be present to go through the language, taking into consideration the suggestions board members had made.

Morgan said he would create a draft of the questions, making the adjustments and corrections noted by the board, also looking at sample language used by Lexington 5.

The board determined discussion over bond referendum language would continue at the June 24 finance and facilities meeting when the district’s bond attorney was present to discuss the action and activities that school board members and district employees could and could not do regarding the bond referendum, along with reviewing language used in bond referendums by other districts. Discussion regarding Phase 2 referendum language will also continue at the July 1 meeting of the board.

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