4 Sumter public schools will become 2

School board votes 5-3 to pass revised consolidation proposal

BY BRUCE MILLS
bruce@theitem.com
Posted 4/12/18

In a 5-3 split vote, Sumter School District's Board of Trustees passed the district administration's revised consolidation proposal on Tuesday night to close two low-enrollment schools and merge them into other larger schools in the same general …

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4 Sumter public schools will become 2

School board votes 5-3 to pass revised consolidation proposal

Posted

In a 5-3 split vote, Sumter School District's Board of Trustees passed the district administration's revised consolidation proposal on Tuesday night to close two low-enrollment schools and merge them into other larger schools in the same general areas of the county.

With the vote in favor of Interim Superintendent Debbie Hamm's revised proposal, Mayewood Middle School in the eastern portion of the county and F.J. DeLaine Elementary School in Wedgefield will close at the end of this school year.

Mayewood will consolidate into R.E. Davis Elementary School, two miles away, next school year as a K-8 magnet school, and F.J. DeLaine will consolidate into Cherryvale Elementary School, three miles away, as a combined K-5 elementary magnet school. The consolidated Cherryvale will have a science, technology, engineering, arts and math concentration.

The five board members who voted in favor of Hamm's revised proposal were Johnny Hilton, William Byrd, Bonnie Disney, Lucille McQuilla and the Rev. Ralph Canty.

The three board members who voted against the motion were Barbara Jackson - who represents the district in which Mayewood is; Linda Alston - who represents the district in which F.J. DeLaine is; and board Chairman the Rev. Daryl McGhaney, who had asked at a previous meeting to slow the process of deciding what to do down.

Board member Karen Michalik didn't attend Tuesday's meeting, which was conducted at Lakewood High School in front of about 40 community members, because of an illness, according to district staff.

Other board members may represent families who attend the two schools, based on where attendance lines fall, a district spokeswoman said Wednesday, but the actual schools are in Districts 7 and 1, respectively.

The two schools' combined projected enrollment estimate for next year was 242 students, according to district data. The entire school district's official enrollment this spring is 16,077. Closing the two schools will affect 1.5 percent of the district's student population, who will be moving into nearby, revamped magnet schools, which will be educationally beneficial, Hamm said.

Her revised proposal for consolidating schools differed from the administration's original draft proposal, which additionally called for the closure of Rafting Creek Elementary School in Rembert. Hamm presented that original proposal at a March 12 board meeting.

After an independent consultant's study found major facility upgrades would be necessary to support more students at Hillcrest Middle School in Dalzell, the Rafting Creek closure was taken off the table two weeks ago at a March 26 board meeting.

The district's interim superintendent since Aug. 1, Hamm maintained throughout the proposal process the administration's "guiding considerations" were to ensure any changes would be educationally beneficial to children, continue educational services in the rural areas of the county and minimize transportation time to new schools. Other considerations included enhancing the image of Sumter School District to help with teacher recruitment, among other factors, and saving money because the district is still under a "financial watch" after it overspent by $6.2 million in fiscal year 2016. Under that watch, the district must provide evidence to the state Department of Education that it is taking steps to increase the operational and general fund balances, Hamm said.

The original proposal estimated cost savings for the district of about $3.6 million during the next three years. After Tuesday's vote, Hamm estimated cost savings with two schools closing instead of three will be $2.4 million - roughly two-thirds of the original total.

The interim superintendent also maintained throughout the last month that any proposed school closures are because of size and low enrollment and not because of a school's test scores and academic performance.

She also said she thinks the magnet school concepts could help stem the tide of declining enrollment in rural areas and be a win overall for rural education in the county.

After the meeting, Hamm said she is looking forward to implementing the program changes at R.E. Davis and Cherryvale. R.E. Davis will become a new K-8 college preparatory academy, and Cherryvale will become a K-5 STEAM school.

"I have absolutely no doubt that this will be good for those students at the affected schools and good for our school district," Hamm said. "I do think it's the first in a series of things we will be able to do to enhance our schools, and this is a good first step."

She said she recognizes it will be difficult initially for people in the two affected communities to see the schools close but that she thinks the process will be in the best interest of the students in the long run.

"I know it's hard for people to see schools close that they or their family members may have attended," Hamm said. "But I think when you look at it from the perspective of students - they are going to be well served by this move."

McGhaney, the board chairman, declined to make much comment after Tuesday's meeting.

"They'll close, and the motion passes," McGhaney said.

He yielded any other comment to Hamm.