Letter to Editor
by Alex Saitta
June 18, 2013
I wrote this letter in response to the articles concerning the one middle school in Easley. It ran on Patch.com, in the Easley Progress and I think the Pickens County Courier.
When the Pickens County School Building Program was passed in 2006, the plan was to have one middle school in Easley (Brice Middle). That school was initially allocated $18.1 for its renovation. As the building program grew, the budget for that school grew to $20.9 million. In October 2010 a second middle school (Gettys Middle) was added to the program and the total budget for the two schools was $26.2 million. Due to various reasons (saving the 1939 building at Brice Middle, and the growing wants at Gettys Middle), the district administration estimated the cost to renovate both schools was now more than $32 million or $6 million above the latest budget.
When the idea of a county-wide building program was first introduced about ten years ago, the initial cost estimate was $158 million. That figure was increased eight times as plans were passed and expanded to $178 million, $197 million, $315, $336, $354, $365, $374 and to the current cost of $377.8 million. Tax rates were raised 40 mills and more than $364 million was borrowed. The districtís debt level is seven times that of Oconee County Schools. I know it is about giving the children better school buildings, but at some point you have to look at how much debt you are putting your children in to ďgiveĒ them all these things.
Looking at the annual budget, it now costs $2.3 million more to run all these new and renovated schools. The rising buildings operations budget is choking the education budget. A couple of months ago, the Easley Trustee, Judy Edwards, proposed a plan to eliminate nearly 25 classroom teaching positions and it failed by just one vote. The district is that close to having to put more students in each classroom in order to deal with its rising costs.
I think with 25% of our students not reading at grade level, our limited funds must be devoted to the classroom, not another school building. The second middle school in Easley would have cost another $700,000 to run each year. Funding the district does not have, but would have to get elsewhere in its budget.
Many parents whose children were slated to attend Gettys Middle, have emailed board members for the past two years in opposition to the second middle school because they felt their school would be second rate to Brice Middle. There is some truth to that. Brice, a former high school, innately has more to offer like a football stadium, auditorium and its main building (the 1939 building) is being gutted and completely renovated because it is just so old.
It is true Easley didnít get a proportional amount of the building program money based on its enrollment. However, there was a reason for that. Just before the building program, in 2004, $17 million was spent on four Easley elementary school renovations when no other schools in the county were getting any renovation money. For instance, in 2004, just before the building program, East End Elementary was rebuilt from the ground up. So when the building program started in 2006, East End received only $640,000 of building program money. The school didnít need it: it was a practically new school. McKissick Elementary which got none of that 2004 money, then got a $6.2 million renovation in the building program.
Liberty schools, for instance, received a disproportionate amount of building program money (21% of building money, but only 14% of total enrollment), but it had the greatest need going into the building program because the last time any of its schools had work was in 1998 (minor work done at Liberty Elementary). Liberty Middle hadnít had any work since 1967 and by far was the school considered to be in the worst condition in the county.
Finally, the notion Easleyís middle school enrollment is growing is simply untrue. Currently, Easley has the same number of middle school students now (1352) as it did ten years ago.
I understand why many wanted a second middle school in Easley, but with the cost being so high and rising for the two schools, so much being spent overall, and such a large chunk of parents unhappy with the two school idea, I voted to continue with the original plan and stick with the one middle school in Easley.