District needs to think about closings

The Pickens County School District Board of Trustees has a short window of opportunity to redeem itself. Two trustees are against the closings and two trustees have wisely reserved judgment on the issue of closing the mountain schools as a short-term solution to their long range economic deficit. Hopefully, those trustees will step forward and do the right thing because it is the right thing to do.

Based on what I have been able to glean from district documents, newspaper accounts and several informed sources, here’s what is really going on. Despite the fact that they don’t have sufficient projected revenues for maintenance of their existing facilities, the Board has embarked on an ambitious program of facility additions, realignment and renovations, with no realistic plan for how to pay for it. They paid a consultant $50,000 for a facilities plan, which made three recommendations, none of which involved closing the mountain schools.

The fact that two of the three options involved closing Hagood Elementary sent shock waves through the Hagood School community, which in turn mounted an effective campaign and put an abrupt end to that. Then a totally different idea emerged and they turned their sights on the three mountain schools.

Apparently they assumed or hoped that those folks would not be as passionate and organized as those at Hagood. But just in case they were wrong, they gave advocates of keeping the schools open only seven days to react. So they dropped that bomb on a Monday with the admonition that the final vote would be held the following Monday.

The parents, students and community leaders of the three schools turned out in impressive numbers at the hastily organized school meetings to plead their case. Board members and district officials heard heart-rending accounts of how devastating the loss of their long-standing community schools would be on the children and the communities themselves. They saw school children shedding tears at the meetings and on TV. The Board’s concession for all this was to postpone the vote one week.

In my opinion, the Board needs to do three things: First, the Board needs to humbly and openly apologize to the people of Pickens County for the Board’s prior shenanigans which placed the school district’s accreditation at risk.

Second, they need to abandon the plan to close schools and fess up to the residents of Pickens County that closing the three mountain schools is only one step in making similar facility changes all across the county.

And finally, they need to roll up their sleeves and find a way to pay their bills. Call in whatever outside help you need to help organize priorities and get real about what you can and cannot do with the resources you have.

But for right now, the only cost savings by facility closing I am interested in is how much the district would save by closing the Curtis A. Sidden District Administration office building and letting the Board conduct its affairs in a portable out back in the parking lot.

Dennis Chastain



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