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Parents, citizens voice school concerns

Posted: March 8, 2018 4:58 p.m.
Updated: March 9, 2018 1:00 a.m.
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Strong calls for school safety and concerns about what Kershaw County Council is actually planning to do about it dominated the public comment period of council’s Feb. 27 meeting.

Concerns have arisen, both locally and nationwide, in the wake of last month’s Parkland, Fla. school shooting that claimed 14 lives.

Concerned parents and citizens, as well as Sheriff Jim Matthews and Donald Branham, one of five candidates running for sheriff in the 2018 election, all spoke to the issue of safe schools.

Locally, a large group of parents have organized as the Kershaw County Coalition for Safe Schools. According to coalition spokeswoman LeeAnn Torres, the group already has more than 400 members, all of whom are actively campaigning for action to make Kershaw County schools as safe as possible. For example, the group believes each school in Kershaw County needs School Resource Officers (SROs) at each school in the district. Currently, that’s not the situation, she said.

“Right now, for example, there is one SRO covering Midway and North Central -- and occasionally that officer is called to assist at Pine Tree Hill Elementary,” Torres said. “It’s a six-minute trip between two of those schools -- and we’ve already seen what can happen in six minutes. That’s just not acceptable.”

Another coalition member, Elizabeth Ratcliff, noted that the time to discuss SROs and how to fund them was actually in 2012, after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that killed more than 20 people.

“It is said that the most dangerous animal in the woods is a mama bear protecting her cubs,” she said. “Think of us a large group of mama bears protecting our cubs. We want action.”

Matthews noted the need for decisive action to be taken to make schools safer. A number of actions need to be considered and discussed, including hiring more SROs. However, he also pointed out that -- cost considerations not withstanding -- that acquiring new SROs is not an instant, or even relatively quick solution; if the county and the school district were to hire new officers tomorrow, they could not be deployed for more than a year, as the state law enforcement academy has a severe backlog of slots for new officers to undergo training.

“There are those who will pay extra taxes for this; there are those will oppose any taxes for any reason … I hope that politics does not play too big a role in this decision,” Matthews said.

Later in the meeting, Councilman Sammie Tucker Jr., who headed an ad hoc committee that was studying SRO funding and growth issues, formally asked council to extend the committee 45 more days to revisit the issue. He said the committee had accomplished a great deal and in fact had finished its discussions and research and prepared a report and recommendations for council’s review. Then the Feb. 14 mass shooting in Florida took place and the committee members felt they needed to revisit some of the issues.

“We want to be very careful and deliberate in how we approach this,” Tucker said. “I think the committee can continue to have good dialogue and examine all the issues -- and of course, everyone has been and is welcome to attend. There are multiple issues and we need to sit down with cool heads and work carefully through them.”

Councilman Jimmy Jones questioned the need for the committee taking more time.

“I think there are things we can do now, but I think the final decisions are going to rest with the sheriff and the school district superintendent,” he said.

Council unanimously voted to extend the committee for 45 more days.

Other business discussed:

• Council passed second reading of a proposed Fee In Lieu of Taxes agreement (FILOT) between Kershaw County and Canfor Southern Pine Inc. The FILOT codifies the company agrees to a minimum investment of $35 million over five years with an assessment ratio of 6 percent and a fixed millage rate of 324.4 mills over 30 years.  

• Council voted to extend the audit contract between the county and Sheheen Hancock and Godwin, the local CPA firm that currently performs the audit and prepares the audit report for Kershaw County.

• Council appointed Amy Kinard, executive director of the Kershaw County Chamber of Commerce, Woody Goff, Executive Director of the Kershaw County Fine Arts Center and Halie Brazier, executive director of Historic Camden to the Accommodations Tax (ATAX) Committee.

• Council discussed, and is moving, forward with re-forming the Clean Community Commission, but wants to ensure the municipalities in the county are on board. Council will appoint new members to the commission at the next council meeting.

• Council heard a brief presentation from a group of residents who live in the Bridlewood Farm subdivision off Springdale Drive regarding a problem between the neighborhood and the developer and homebuilders regarding the main road in the subdivision. According to Bridlewood HOA spokeswoman Penry Gustafson, the homeowners were told by the developer and homebuilder that their road into the subdivision would be repaired and brought up to code. However, according to the HOA, the developer and builder did not fulfill this agreement and currently the city, county or state have no ownership of or obligation for maintaining the road.

Currently, the road is in poor shape and requires some $200,000 in upgrades to be brought to code. The HOA, which has thus far raised $10,000, is asking the city of Camden and the county for any help in resolving this situation.

 

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