Standing Room Only at School Board Meeting
Monday, August 17, 2009 at 9:27PM
Editor

 

A standing room only crowd of well over 500 crowded into the Anderson County Library for the Anderson County Board of Education's release of the Strom Thurmond Institute report on consolidating Anderson County School Districts

     The night before students returned to the classroom in Anderson County, a large and loud crowd packed into the Anderson County Library Monday night for the presentation of a sponsored study recommending the potential consolidation of Anderson County School Districts.

     As reported in The Anderson Observer last month, "Options for Multi-district Counties, The View from Anderson County, South Carolina," by Clemson University's Strom Thurmond Institute for Government and Public Affairs, offers a proposal suggesting that a three-school district plan is the best fit for Anderson County.

     It was a conclusion which met a chilly, but vocal reception, from the standing room only crowd.

     Meanwhile, the Anderson Board of Education, said the presentation of the report was in no way an endorsement of consolidating school districts, but simply the putting forth of options which would benefit all the students of Anderson County.

     "This is not about saving money," said Mike Gray, a member of the Anderson County Board of Education. "This is about the best way to education all the children of Anderson County, to make sure that every child in the county has the same opportunities and resources for a quality education."

     But the three-district plan, which would essentially cut the current Anderson School District 5 in half, was responsible for most of the questions and comments following the presentation. Why some method of sharing of resources was not the primary recommendation of the study on the agenda for those who had read the study.

     "I find it option 3 (the three-district plan) offensive," said Mack Burris, Chairman of the District Five Board of Trustees. Burris said the visionary programs in Dist. 5 were visionary and took years of hard work. "Some people just want these programs handed over to them."

     Paul Talmadge, another member of the District 5 board of trustees, while commending the Anderson Board of Education, suggested that vision, leadership and commitment would make for better schools, not a "simplistic" formula attempting to equalize enrollment and money in each district. Quoting liberally from sections throughout the report, Talmadge said consolidation is not a "magic formula" for improving schools and said Dist. 5 had been a countywide leader in education and should not be dismantled.

     "Killing the goose that laid the golden egg is not the way to reach your goal," Talmadge said.

     Betty Bagley, superintendent of Anderson County School District 5, said that meaningful education in the county needed to come from the leadership of the superintendents of the districts and their trustees.

     "Give the five superintendents and the five boards the chance, give us the time and we will bring a proposal that will provide educational opportunities to all the students of Anderson County," Bagley said.Anderson School District 4 Superintendent Lee D'Andrea agreed.

     "We can work together, to share resources, to use the technology available, to find a way to meet the goal," D'Andrea said. "Sharing is a better answer, a better solution."

     Holley Ulbrich, lead researcher for the report, opened the presentation by saying the study was commissioned "to identify ways to ensure equal access to a quality 21st-century education for all of Anderson County's children at a reasonable cost." (download summary of the report here). Outlining changes to the county since the current school district lines were drawn in 1952, the report outlined five options for meeting the stated goal: Consolidation/Redistricting; Centralization and Decentralization; Tax Base Sharing; Service Sharing; and the Do Nothing, or status quo option.

     Most of Ulbrich's presentation focused on the first option of consolidation/redistricting. The study examined the potential for one, two and three school districts for Anderson County, with the three district model, "tweaked every 10 years or so."

     The full study, first reported here, was released following the meeting. The report concludes redistricting into three school districts would "most efficiently meet" the stated goals of the study. But it also notes other options which involve sharing of services, authority, tax base and/or resources would be "the most challenging to implement, but also has the greatest potential for creating schools and districts that are truly both local and equal.

     The recommendations of the study will be reviewed by a Anderson Board of Education commitee. The commitee will make recommendations to the full board. If a recommendation is made to make substantial changes, such as consolidation of districts, a referendum will allow votes to decide.

Article originally appeared on The Anderson Observer (http://andersonobserver.com/).
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