Consolidation is right thing for students

Over the past two years, our board has worked in the spirit of collaboration with our county commissioners.

A liaison group, with representation from each board, has met monthly to discuss a variety of issues. Originally our conversations were focused on current expense funding, but most recently, our meetings have focused primarily on the consolidation plan.

We have answered every question posed to us, have provided an abundance of data, and have looked at numerous consolidation scenarios. We had an independent financial group verify that our plan does save money and that the new school and school additions can be paid for by the cost savings that will occur because of consolidation, and that no new funds will need to be requested from the county or our taxpayers for consolidation. We know the economic challenges of our community and like us, the difficult decisions our commissioners have to make when planning their budget with fewer financial resources. A further demonstration of our good faith effort is that beginning with the 2016-17 school year, and for the next two school years, our board has agreed to a 2.25 percent ($243K) reduction in funding as compared to the funding received during the 2015-16 school year. We want to continue to be able to reduce the commissioners’ annual financial obligation to the school system and this consolidation plan will allow us to do that as well.

One other area of concern that we’d like to address is the misconception that ‘jobs will be lost’ because of consolidation. That statement is incorrect and misleading. Just as occurred during the first phase of consolidation, jobs will open up because of normal attrition. Annually, we have an average of 50-60 employees who leave us for a variety of reasons, and most of those folks either retire or move out of our district (often times because of relocation of a spouse).

If consolidation moves forward, instead of annually hiring as many staff as we would have in the past to fill in for normal attrition, we will simply place existing staff into those open positions. Ultimately though, the number of school buildings does not determine our state funding for positions; rather, our student population drives our staff allotments.

As a united board, we fully support the consolidation plan. This plan is a result of the work of many and the feedback and input from countless, concerned staff and community members. In the short term and in the long term, we don’t just believe, we know that this is the right thing to do for our students.

We cannot be satisfied with an ‘adequate’ education for our children. We want, and they deserve, no less than our best. And we also know that when provided these opportunities, our students excel. And while we are aware that one cannot correlate student success simply to the building that they are in, you can attribute academic success to new and greater resources in the classroom, and this takes funding. We want to be able to provide the funds for resources that will directly impact student achievement and not have to continuously funnel those funds into older buildings with ongoing capital needs. Consolidating schools and building a new elementary school will enable us to save money and put those savings directly back into the classroom where they will have the greatest impact on our students.

And finally, we recognize that change is hard and is often times controversial. These decisions are not easy for any of us and are not ones that have been made without much thought and careful consideration. All of the board members have children, grandchildren, and family members that currently attend many of the schools that have been and would be affected. And all but one on our board grew up in this community, and the one board member that didn’t has spent the majority of his life here in Scotland County working in our schools and raising his family. We have family members that currently work in our schools or have retired after spending years working in our district to educate our children. We ourselves attended the schools that have closed and that could close.

Like you, we love our schools and the nostalgia that they hold will forever be a part of our history. However, we can’t let our decisions be dictated by sentimentality nor will we allow our decisions to be swayed by the threat of not being re-elected. As elected officials, we pledged to make the best decisions for our district, our schools, our staff, and most importantly our students. In efforts to move our district and community forward, to provide the best opportunities for our students, and to be the best stewards of our financial resources, we wholeheartedly support our district consolidation plan.

The column is the second of two on consolidation. It was drafted by Scotland County school board members Jeff Byrd, Darrel “B.J.” Gibson,Raymond Hyatt, Summer Gainey, Pat Gates, Charles Brown and Jamie Sutherland and Wayne Cromartie.


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