In January I read the story about the reopening of AR Lewis School as the new location for the 6th to 12th grade alternative school for the School District of Pickens County. The board passed this 6 to 0. I commented about this on Facebook, at the January board meeting, and in a letter to the editor. Below are the thoughts I shared.
Less than a year ago, I along with hundreds of other parents sat in numerous meetings where the district administration and board leadership said AR Lewis and Holly Springs elementary schools had to be closed because a lack of funding. This year, students from five elementary schools in Pickens have been crammed into three.
I voted “No” to closing the schools and presented an alternative plan that earmarked existing revenue to keep all the schools open. There was plenty of money; revenue growth is the highest it has been in 10 years.
Lo and behold, they just found $879,000 for needed upgrades and reopened AR Lewis for another purpose. The board also unanimously approved a $2 million plan to demolish and build administration buildings.
It is clear the finances were there to keep AR Lewis and Holly Springs elementary schools open and parents and teachers were mis-led, if not lied to.
Schools Not Full:
The administration and Phil Bowers (head of facilities committee) also told parents AR Lewis and Holly Springs were below capacity and with only 200 or so students in the schools, so it made no economic sense to keep them open.
My argument at the time was those schools had portable classrooms before the building program. About 8,000 square feet was added to each school to end the over-crowding and have extra capacity for future growth. The extra capacity new board members, like Phil Bowers, saw was by design.
I also argued the $6.1 million in renovations left the schools in excellent condition. Why shutter them? It made all the sense in the world to use them as elementary schools because we’d be paying on that bond until 2032.
Think about their logic and how their decision turned it on its head. AR Lewis had 225 students or not enough students to justify keeping it up. The Alternative School at AR Lewis will only have about 75 students. They completely forgot what they told parents before.
Why didn’t any of the school board trustees point this out, or stand up for these parents, teachers and students who were given a big story?
This is the cost of unity? When something goes wrong or parents, students or taxpayers are given a story, no one on the board will point it out. It is go-along-get-along government on display by all 6 trustees.
When I wrote my letter and spoke to the board about this in public input, there were some responses. I was told Shannon Haskett said this was federal money being used to do the upgrades at AR Lewis.
This is not true. The federal government provides funds to the school district in primarily three ways — Title I, special ed and the school lunch program. It does not give the school district money for buildings.
John Eby questioned me calling the $2 million spending on administration buildings. See my presentation to the board and Eby’s response in the video above.
Ambler, Hagood and Pickens Elementary are close to maxed out now. When I visited the schools at the start of the year, there were no extra classrooms in any of the three. If there is enrollment growth, the Pickens area will likely need more space.
As an alternative someone should have proposed AR Lewis be reopened, yes, but as an elementary school. That didn’t happen. In fact the trustees just raised their right hands like zombies, just went along.
By the way, all this was voted on during an 8 am Friday meeting. I guess telling parents one thing in 2016 and doing the exact opposite in 2017 wasn’t going to stand the light of day, and they knew it.