Report: 3 School Districts Best for Anderson
Sunday, July 26, 2009 at 11:58PM

By Greg Wilson
Editor, Anderson Observer © 2009

      A three-district model for public schools is the "best fit" for Anderson County, according to the conclusions of a new study by Clemson University's Strom Thurmond Institute of Government and Public Affairs.

      A copy of the lengthy report obtained by the Anderson Observer, "Options for Multi-district Counties, The View From Anderson County, South Carolina," outlines in great detail the case for reorganizing the county's schools into three districts. The $58,000 study, commissioned by the Anderson County Board of Education, was commissioned in 2007 to discover "the best ways to equalize educational opportunities for the county's public school students."

      The report concludes that three school districts, instead of the current five, would provide "more nearly equal student population, assessed value per pupil, and growth potential in order to achieve a more uniform allocation of resources across the districts."

      In the study, the three-district proposal suggests combining:

      1. Districts One and Four, excluding the Townville portion, to create a new Northern District;

      2. The T.L. Hanna half of District Five with District Two, to form an Eastern District;

      3. The Westside High School half of District Five and District Three and the Townville portion of District Four, to create a Western District.

      Other consolidation/redistricting options the study considered for Anderson County Schools include: status quo, or keeping the current five; a single countywide school district; and a plan which would create two school districts for the county. But the study suggests none of the other options offer the potential benefits of the three-district recommendation. The report suggested the size of Anderson County was not a good fit for either the single-district option or the two-district option, and that the continued trend of unequal growth made the status quo option unattractive.

      In South Carolina, 29 counties currently have a single school district while the other 17 counties have between two and seven districts.

      As part of the report, Anderson County's current five school districts were also assessed and compared with comparable districts across the state in the study. The results found that all five compare favorably in testing, and per pupil expenditures.

      Non-consolidation/redistricting options were also examined as part of the report. Exploring approaches taken by other school districts across the county, such issues as tax base sharing and services sharing were examined as potential avenues to accomplish the stated goals for the report. But the conclusion indicated that the three-district option would best serve students in Anderson County.

      Questions about why the county has not revisited the idea of school district equality since 1952 have been around a long time, said Randy Price, Anderson County School Board representative for Area 1.

      "We just want to make sure the students in Districts Two and Three have the equal educational opportunities and funding as those along the I-85 coridor," Price said. "We want to do what we can to equalize educational opportunities for all of the county's public school students."

      When Anderson County consolidated from 74 school districts to five in 1952, the student population and tax base of each of the five districts were roughly equal. The construction of Interstate 85 and the creation of Hartwell Lake, are largely credited for the dramatic shift in economic and residential growth over the past 57 years. Today there is a broad disparity in the size of school districts in Anderson County. The largest currently is nearly five times the size of the smallest, with School District Five serving 12,055 students while District Three is the smallest, serving 2,587 students during the 2008-2009 school year.

     The report also suggests the current trend of more rapid growth of Districts One, Four and Five is likely to continue, while slower growth is expected in Districts Two and Three.

      Joey Nimmer, Administrator for the Anderson County Board of Education, said the Strom Thurmond Institute study was simply the first step in examining any options available to assure that every public school student in Anderson County has the equal opportunities to succeed.

      Nimmer was quick to add that the study was in no way a binding document, but simply one way of assessing the current system and finding the best way to educate the counties 30,000 students.

     "This report offers us so many options or blend of options, it is too early to speculate what conclusions will be reached," Nimmer said. "We are not bound by the proposals or particular recommendations of this report."

      "It is the intent and desire of the board to release the full report at our meeting on Aug. 17," said Nimmer. Special invitations to that meeting have been extended to the Anderson County Legislative Delegation, board members representing the five districts and all of the county's school superintendents. The public is also invited to the meeting, scheduled for the Anderson County Library at 6 p.m.

      Authors of the study will present their findings, field questions and distribute copies of the full study "while they last" at that meeting.

      Following the meeting, the study will be reviewed by the Anderson County Board of Education Study Committee. This committee will also seek input from the community and other key constituents before presenting their recommendation to the full board.

      Nimmer said any "significant action," approved by the full board - such as the realignment of school districts - would ultimately be decided by voters in a referendum.

      There is currently no schedule for how quickly any action will be taken on the report following the Aug. 17 meeting, Nimmer added.

       In a statement, Anderson County School District Five Superintendent Betty Bagley expressed concern about the report. "Our District Five board members and I are deeply concerned about the Strom Thurmond Institute's "Options for Multidistrict Counties" report. We're currently in the process of speaking with county board members on the study subcommittee and developing a response to these proposals."

     "I think it's important we look at this issue since it has been out there so long and needs to be studied," said Anderson County School District 4 Superintendent Lee D'Andrea. "It is worth looking into anything which might help us be more efficient and effective in how we repsond to the needs of our students." D'Andrea, who said she had read the excutive summary and is currently reading the entire report, said she is also interested in looking at reasearch at other counties in South Carolina who have studied the issue.

      Superintendents from the other four districts had not replied to requests for an interview at the time this story was posted. They will be added as they come in.

© 2009 Anderson Observer, all rights reserved.

Update on Monday, July 27, 2009 at 3:08PM by Registered CommenterEditor

For more information on this story as it develops, read the Anderson Observer. News from people you trust.

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