It is a pleasant surprise to read on today’s front page that the Kershaw County School District (KCSD) has an extra $23 million from the sale of bonds and accrued interest connected to the 2016 penny sales tax and facility construction referenda.
The Kershaw County Board of School Trustees spent part of its meeting Tuesday night discussing possible options for the North Central area’s elementary schools. As they have in the past, those options range from full consolidation to renovations.
And, as in the past, those options sparked a pointed debate among trustees.
We have long supported the idea of keeping our county’s small schools open. However, we must also recognize the reality of what can and can’t happen.
If we understand the options correctly and the board were to utilize the additional $23 million strictly toward these four schools, only one of the four options would come under that amount: Consolidating Baron DeKalb (BDK), Bethune (BES) and Mt. Pisgah (MPES) elementary schools to a proposed new facility on Keys Lane adjacent to NCMS while renovating Midway Elementary School ($19.9 million).
Another option -- performing only cosmetic repairs to BDK, BES and MPES without violating S.C. Office of School Facilities guidelines -- did not have a price tag attached; we don’t know if it is a viable option.
It is possible that even more money could be freed up from somewhere to make the other options work. However, except for the cosmetic repairs, all of the options require closing at least one of the schools -- something trustees Kim DuRant and Derrick Proctor said they have a problem with, especially since the 2016 referendum included the $1 million for BDK, BES and MPES to keep their schools open through renovations and increased enrollment.
And, keep in mind, the original language of the 2016 referendum would have closed at least BDK and BES in favor of a consolidated facility next to NCMS. The referendum language was later changed in order to facilitate the extension of 2014 state legislation enabling the board to seek the 1-cent sales tax.
Again, we like the idea of keeping these schools open. Schools have always been a part of any community’s identity. However, the reality is, there may never be enough money to do right by these individual schools. It would take far more than $23 million to rebuild all three schools, something that is becoming more and more necessary as they continue to age. Parts of MPES are almost a century old, for example, but the chance of the entire county passing yet another referendum to fund such projects is, unfortunately, unlikely.
This has been, is, and will continue to be a very hard issue to resolve. Consolidate or renovate? Some, but not all?
We hope that all of the trustees will find some way to balance out what these small-school communities want versus what the entire county -- including the North Central area -- needs. It’s a tough job and we do not envy them the task.