School Closings -- Dacusville Communicy Center Speech
By Alex Saitta
April 24, 2016
In early February I was asked to speak at the Dacusville Community Center on the subject of the school closings. From start to finish there were are four plans presented to the public. This discussion dealt with the second plan the board majority/ administration put forward which was to close Ambler, Holly Springs, and AR Lewis elementary schools and send those students to Hagood, Pickens and Dacusville elementary schools. The spillover at Dacusville Elementary was going to cause that school to become a kindergarten to 4th grade only school, and the 5th grade was going to be shifed to Dacusville Middle. The plan was also going to make Hagood a primary school of kindergarten to 2nd grade only and Pickens a 3rd to 5th grade only school.
The board majority later cut the plan back to closing AR Lewis and Holly Springs with no re-configuration. That was approved by Judy Edwards, Brian Swords, Phil Bower and Herb Cooper. Henry Wilson and Alex Saitta voted against.
Much of what I said in this speech still rings true like the point about having to still pay the mortgage on these closed schools, the lack of simple budget principles and it is unclear what their new construction plans are given the board majority is no longer publishing a 5-year capital needs plan.
Revenue to the school district is growing at the highest rate in 10 years. But for some reason, our school district can’t balance its books. That’s the primary problem.
Revenue is growing like this. Spending is not growing like this, but growing way up here like that. There has been a burst of new spending the past 18 months, and the primary way they are trying to plug that gap is by closing schools, eliminating teaching positions and running down savings.
There are some operating principles we should get back to in order to help solve this.
One, no one is asking the district to cut their existing budgets like they did in 2009 or 2010. Nor am I asking them not grow their budgets either. The district just has to not grow them so fast. That is, slow the growth in spending so it is back in line with rising revenue. Live within your means like everyone else does.
Two, refocus spending on things that directly impact the education of the students. Keeping classes small is one way to do that, rather than funding a fleet of 31 white buses. Couldn’t we fund 25 activity buses and use the savings to help pay to replace the HVAC at Ambler and keep that school open?
Three, we spent $375 million on buildings, 7 new schools and renovated 20 other schools, added 800,000 sq feet — a generation worth of building. Enough is enough. Recently $50,000 was spent on an architectual plan — Building Plan II I called it. The administration must resist the urge to do more construction and instead focus on maintatining all they have built.
I live off Griffin Mill Road, and drive by the district office all the time. Did the administration need to tear out all the landscaping, cut down the trees, put in new landscaping, plant new trees , plus a $20,000 LED sign that flashes “Welcome to the SDPC”?
Look at the 5 year capital plan of new spending:
I simply do not see the NEED to spend $6 million to renovate BJ Skelton and the Old Pickens Middle School to make them administration buildings. No more new construction or renovations.
Focus the money on maintaining the newly renovated buildings.
Instead of building a $1.2 million teacher training center replace the roof at Ben Hagood and keep that school open.
Instead of spending $1.2 to move the Pickens Bus Office, use that money to replace the HVAC’s at Holly Springs and Ambler and keep those schools open open.
The Transportation and Food Service were just moved into a newly renovated building. Why spend $1.2 million more on renovations to move them again, and close our schools to pay for it?
We just spent $56 million on Pickens High and $58 million on Easley. We spent $31 million alone on sports facilities. Each football stadium cost $3 million. We do not need to spend another $300,000 on extra bathrooms those schools sports facilities.
The old Easley High was 215,000 sqf. The new one is 270,000 sqf. They added a ton of space. The plan is to spend $700,000 to build a large instruction room at Easley High and close our elementary schools to pay for it.
The high schools and Career Center got 65% of the money in the $387 million building program. The 16 elementary schools got only 17%. It is not all about the high schools. They’ve had their turns and need to get to the back of the line.
We just spent nearly $10 million to renovate Ambler, AR Lewis and Holly Spring, and will be paying that off until 2032. The plan is to close them. It would be like renovating your home with a 20 year mortgage and then abandoning it a few years later and still having to pay it off until 2032. No one would ever do that.
Liberty High School:
So the schools are small. They have always been small. You could say the same thing about Liberty High School which only has 650 students. Is that school going to be closed after we just spent $40 million on it? Heck no. Common sense will prevail.
Finally, we built Chastain Road so we could end the 5th to 8th grade configuration at Liberty Middle, in order to make the entire district’s configurations uniform. That was a $16 million fix. Now this plan goes back to that configuration at Dacusville Middle. How are we going to stop other attendence zones from them wanting their own special configuration? Once one is allowed, it will be hard to stop others and and how much will that cost?
The board presented its plan to close 3 schools and reconfigure 4 others. The public has rejected the plan unanimously. If the board continues to talk about closing schools or alternative solutions for closing schools the next few months or even the next few weeks, it will turn these schools completely upside down. The board should say we heard the 800 people at the 3 meetings, and then pledge not to close or reconfigure any schools. That option is off the table.
Additionally, the board members should work out the details of making that pledge a reality. It is not the responsibility of the public. That is what the public hires school board members for. They give us a directive and we figure out how to make it work.