Two Middle Schools?
By Alex Saitta
July 12, 2013
Last night the board voted to stick to one middle school in Easley, confirming its late May vote in another 5 to 1 vote against the project. I wrote an op-ed in the Greenville News last week explaning why I voted for one school and not two.
When the Pickens County School Building Program was passed in 2006, the plan was to have one middle school in Easley, converting the old high school to the new middle school (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 $6 million above that budget figure. [The estimated cost later grew to $9 million above budget.]
In May, the district administration recommended and the board voted to go back to the original plan of one middle school in Easley and $25 million is being spent to convert the old high school to the new middle school (Brice Middle).
When the idea of a county-wide building program was first introduced in 2005, the initial cost estimate was $158 million. That figure was increased eight times as the program was expanded to $178 million, $197 million, $315, $336, $354, $365, $374 and to the current cost of $377.8 million. Tax rates were raised twice, by a total of 41 mills and about $353 million was borrowed. I know it is about giving the children better school buildings, my children attended Holly Springs Elementary this past year, but at some point you have to look at how much debt you are putting your children in to “give” them all these things.
It now costs $2.3 million a year more to run all these new and renovated schools. The rising cost to run these buildings is choking the education budget. To run the second middle school in Easley would have cost another $700,000 annually. Funding the district does not have, but would have to get elsewhere in its budget.
A couple of months ago, the Easley Trustee, Judy Edwards, proposed a plan to raise classroom sizes by eliminating 25 classroom teaching positions. Her proposal 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.
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 Middle, the former high school, innately has more to offer like a football stadium, auditorium and its main building (the 1939 building) was gutted and completely renovated because it was just so old.
It is true Easley didn’t 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 2003 and 2004, millions were spent renovating four of the seven schools in Easley, 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 2007, East End received only $640,000 of building program money. The school didn’t need it: it was a practically new school.
McKissick Elementary in Easley, which wasn’t renovated in 2003-04, received a $6.2 million renovation in the building program. It was by far the largest elementary school renovation project in the county. Easley is not being treated unfairly.
Liberty schools 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 at Liberty Elementary). Liberty Middle hadn’t had any work since 1967 and by far was the school in the worst condition.
Finally, the notion Easley’s middle school enrollment is growing is simply untrue. Easley has the same number of middle school students now (1352) as it did ten years ago.