Residents say Sumter school zoning is unequal

NAACP holds third meeting about potential school closures

BY BRUCE MILLS
bruce@theitem.com
Posted 3/4/18

WEDGEFIELD - Equity in school zoning and attendance lines was a major item of concern expressed by community members Thursday night at an NAACP community meeting regarding a potential closure of F.J. DeLaine Elementary School.

The community …

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Residents say Sumter school zoning is unequal

NAACP holds third meeting about potential school closures

Sumter County NAACP Chapter President Elizabeth Kilgore, left, speaks at a recent community meeting regarding potential school closures in Sumter School District.
Sumter County NAACP Chapter President Elizabeth Kilgore, left, speaks at a recent community meeting regarding potential school closures in Sumter School District.
BRUCE MILLS / THE SUMTER ITEM
Posted

WEDGEFIELD - Equity in school zoning and attendance lines was a major item of concern expressed by community members Thursday night at an NAACP community meeting regarding a potential closure of F.J. DeLaine Elementary School.

The community meeting at DeLaine Community Center, 5400 Cane Savannah Road, across the street from the school, was the third in three weeks organized by the Sumter County branch of the NAACP in selected rural communities of the county where low-enrollment schools were identified last year for potential closure by Sumter School District.

At that time, district officials were trying to best address a financial crisis from the previous fiscal year.

On April 24 of last year, the full school board voted down in a 4-2 split vote on a motion from its advisory Finance Committee to close F.J. DeLaine and another school at the end of last school year.

About 50 community members turned out for Thursday's meeting - which included Sumter County Council member Chris Sumpter and state Rep. Wendy Brawley, D-Richland - and said they think it's only a matter of time before district leadership will propose closing DeLaine again, given the district's still-low general fund balance.

Several in attendance said inequitable school zoning and attendance lines are a root cause of low enrollment at F.J. DeLaine now, as opposed to decades ago.

Roland Robinson, second vice president for the Sumter NAACP, said newer school district attendance lines now zone kids for Cherryvale Elementary School and Manchester Elementary School in Pinewood as opposed to DeLaine.

"If they would redraw those attendance lines, DeLaine would have 300 to 400 students in the school," Robinson said.

Robinson said he has submitted that information as a solution to DeLaine's low enrollment and potential school closures to Sumter school board Chairman the Rev. Daryl McGhaney.

DeLaine's current enrollment is 130 students, according to the district.

Community member Roosevelt Miott, a former principal at DeLaine, agreed with Robinson's assessment.

"The equity in zoning lines is off, and it's definitely off since we became a consolidated district (in 2011)," Miott said.

Sumpter and Brawley, who represent the region in the western part of the county on the Sumter County Council and in the state House of Representatives, respectively, said they're concerned about closing schools in rural areas and encouraged four school board members in attendance Thursday to look at equity in the school lines.

Sumpter said he's concerned the district isn't looking into zoning as a solution for the low-enrollment schools and even said it could affect his decision-making on council if the district were to come before council for a millage increase.

"It's going to be hard for me to support a millage increase when we have constituents who are here of mine in District 1 who are concerned about zoning, and no one is taking a look at it," Sumpter said.

The four school board members present were Johnny Hilton, Bonnie Disney, Linda Alston and Barbara Jackson.

All said they attended to listen to constituents and reassured them that no decisions on school closures have been made yet.

Each also said he or she made notes from the meeting and will share that information with the rest of the school board.

Last year, when a financial consultant worked with the school district through its financial crisis, he advised closing DeLaine and Mayewood Middle School would provide $3.6 million in cost savings this fiscal year. He said at the time savings would mostly come in the areas of utility costs and insurance for the facilities. The consultant, Scott Allan, said rezoning students around the district's schools would not generate cost savings to build the district's fund balance back up.