Bethune Town Councilman John Fulmer doesn’t want the elementary school in his town to close. At worst, he said he would prefer that if Bethune Elementary School (BES) is closed, it is consolidated only with Mt. Pisgah Elementary School at a location between the two existing sites. Fulmer said closing BES would have an economic impact on the town.
“We still haven’t recovered fully from the closing of our high school,” Fulmer said during a public hearing on Phase 2 of the Kershaw County School District’s (KCSD) facilities equalization plan.
Bethune High School closed in 1999; a charter school operated for a short time before closing as well.
Tuesday’s hearing, the first of two, took place during the Kershaw County Board of School Trustees’ meeting at North Central Middle School (NCMS).
“Our first choice is to keep our school in Bethune. Our second choice is to build a consolidated school between Bethune and Mt. Pisgah on (S.C.) 341, an equal distance from both,” Fulmer said, joined by fellow Councilman Don Witham and Bethune Mayor Charles McCoy.
Part of the Phase 2 proposals include creating a combined North Central elementary school to replace some combination of Bethune, Mt. Pisgah (MPES) and Baron DeKalb (BDK) elementary schools. Fulmer said his constituents have expressed concerns over the possibility of a three-school consolidation.
“They’re saying we pay taxes for schools too so why are our kids (potentially) going to have to ride over 18 miles to get to school?” Fulmer asked.
As it stands now, the Phase 2 referendum proposal includes creating a combined North Central elementary school with a 500-student capacity to replace BES, MPES and BDK ($14.46 million); renovate and effect athletic facilities upgrades at North Central High School ($6.17 million); and add science labs and special needs classroom to NCMS ($1.92 million). In the Camden area, the proposal includes renovating and upgrade athletic facility upgrades at Camden High School, including complete stadium facilities on Ehrenclou Drive and, therefore, to ultimately close Zemp Stadium ($7.82 million). It would also demolish and replace Camden Elementary School on the old Camden Middle School site ($18.15 million).
In the West Wateree area, the proposal would renovate and make additions to Stover Middle School ($2.43 million); renovate, make additions and perform athletic upgrades at Lugoff-Elgin High School ($12.09 million); demolish and replace Wateree Elementary School ($18 million); and demolish and replace Lugoff Elementary School on a new 25-acre site ($18.73 million, with the cost being reduced if rebuilt on its current site).
An additional $28.04 million would be called for to rebuild the Applied Technology Education Campus as part of Central Carolina Technical College’s economic development campus proposal.
Trustee Kim Horton Durant, who had to leave the meeting early, echoed Fulmer’s sentiments during an interview Thursday morning. She also focused on a separate proposal to include Midway Elementary School (MES) in the consolidation.
“I am adamantly opposed to consolidating all four elementary schools in the North Central area,” Durant said. “Bigger is not always better.”
Durant said her platform while running for school board has always been “to fight to save the rural schools of Kershaw County.” She said rural schools in the North Central area have continued to perform well and have high test scores despite continued budget cuts.
“We’re down to the bare bones, sharing a principal, and our test scores are still good,” Durant said. “The heart of the community is in these schools. We’re asking to save our schools, to keep our small schools intact. If not that, then we’d prefer the two-school consolidation (of Mt. Pisgah and Bethune).”
Durant said she would be opposed to including MES in the consolidation discussion as the school had a high enough population to stand on its own, along with a recent $5 million renovation.
She also echoed Fulmer’s sentiments regarding the economic impact that the loss of the rural schools would have.
“It was been proven that the removal of a school from a community has a negative impact on the social and economical structure of that community,” Durant said.
KCSD Superintendant Dr. Frank Morgan said the biggest area of discussion still was in relation to elementary schools in the North Central area. However, he expressed hope that the board could come to a consensus towards the end of the month about where it wants to go so the district can move towards what will be on the ballot in November.
Trustee Ron Blackmon asked for a reminder of why the proposed “closing of the three elementary schools” would be beneficial to the district.
KCSD Director of Facility Operations Billy Smith said increased academic offerings, larger physical space in classrooms allowing for more activities, savings due to the efficiency of new schools, increased safety, new HVAC systems would all contribute to “a healthier school, overall.”
Blackmon said he felt citizens who reside in the North Central area would be unlikely to vote in favor of school consolidation because they might perceive it as an unnecessary measure.
“The schools we’re talking about closing haven’t been condemned by a fire marshal,” he said.
However, Blackmon did say the consolidation of all four elementary schools would provide an opportunity to develop improved arts and athletic programs that could build and progress from elementary school through high school. He also acknowledged the potential for a combined school to build the community in the vicinity of the school sites.
The next public hearing on Phase 2 will take place during the board’s May 20 meeting at Lugoff Elementary School.
The board also continued discussion of the 2014-15 Fiscal Year budget. A public budget meeting for community members will be take place Monday at 6:30 p.m. in Camden High School’s auditorium.
In other school district news, Morgan was recently named as one of three finalists for S.C. Superintendant of the Year.
“I was extremely humbled to be selected for this honor,” Morgan said. “I attribute this to the high quality employees that we have at every level in our district who work closely with our students and families to produce outstanding results.”
According to a press release, the other two finalists were Charleston County School District Superintendent Nancy McGinley and Spartanburg School District 7 Superintendent Russell Booker, who received the award.