UNION COUNTY — “Considering the evidence presented and the stated board policies, what is the pleasure of the Board?”
That was the question posed by Union County School District Superintendent Dr. William Roach to the Union County Board of School Trustees during a special board meeting in the Sims Middle School cafeteria Monday evening. Roach asked the question following a review of the information the board has received over the last two weeks concerning Lockhart Elementary/Middle School. He presented the review and posed the question as part of Monday’s meeting which was called to address the single action item on its agenda: the “Lockhart Elementary Middle School 2018-2019 plan.”
After posing his question to the board, Roach then answered the questions of several board members concerning the information presented and related issues and then the board expressed its pleasure by voting to close the school at the end of the current school year.
The motion, which was was made by Trustee Manning Jeter and seconded by Trustee BJ McMorris, states that the last day of 2018-2019 school year will be the last day of elementary and middle school in Lockhart.
The board voted 8-1 to approve the motion with Trustee Mike Massey voting no.
The vote was the culmination of a process that began during the board’s February meeting on Monday, Feb. 26 when Roach presented the following information — which he reviewed during Monday’s special board meeting — about the condition of Lockhart Elementary/Middle School:
1. Roach said the MB Kahn Construction Engineering Company was hired to conduct a Facility Study of all Union County Schools during the 2016-17 school year. He said that on May 12, 2017 MB Kahn presented their results to the administration and school board during a work session. During this presentation, Roach said MB Kahn gave an overall analysis, major concerns, and recommendations for each school. He said some concerns that were noted during this presentation were for Lockhart School.
— Roach said that in its overall analysis MB Kakn stated that “while the facility is fully functional today, improving the existing structure would prove to be cost prohibitive.“
— The major concerns expressed by MB Kahn about the school included that it “has surpassed its life expectancy. Long terms plans should be made in the event of major maintenance issues. Lockhart School’s infrastructure is too old and costly to renovate.”
• In May 2017 during the first reading of the 2017-18 budget presentation, Roach said information was presented about what the per pupil amount was for all the schools in the district. The per pupil spending out of the General Fund budget was almost double for Lockhart School, as compared to the other elementary schools (including JEMS).
• Due to the concerns raised in the Facility Study and the discrepancies documented in the 2017-18 budget presentation, Roach said the district administration began to look deeper into the operation of Lockhart School. Roach said the board was presented a handout titled Information Sheet 2-26-18 that presented much of the data that was discovered during our research. He said a summary of the sheet shows:
— There are currently 36 faculty and staff members at Lockhart that could be placed in our current vacancies around the district.
— The 2017-18 90th day Average Daily Membership (which is an average of daily enrollments) and Actual numbers at Lockhart are – 147 & 150. Those numbers are off due to the actual enrollment fluctuating throughout the year. For instance, on the 91st day the actual enrollment was 149 and January 31st there were 147 students enrolled.
— There is a discrepancy between the district teacher-student ratio of 22:1 and the ratios at Lockhart.
— There is a total of 13 students who attend Lockhart instead of their home-based school. There are also 13 students who live in either Chester or York who attend Lockhart School.
— A look at the average daily membership of Lockhart School over the last ten years shows the enrollment has steadily declined over the last five years. Based on current data and trends in the population, the projected student enrollment at Lockhart School K-8 for 2025-26 school year is 84 students.
— The average of Buffalo, Foster Park, and Monarch elementary schools with Jonesville EMS is $7578. The total for Lockhart per student is $14,211. That means we are spending on average, 88% more at Lockhart per student than the other four schools.
Roach said that at its Feb. 26 meeting the board unanimously approved a motion by Trustee Mark Ivey, seconded by Trustee Frank M. Hart, to allow him as superintendent to use his authority to assign employment to employees currently assigned to Lockhart Schools to ensure that none of the employees with the exception of temporary contracts and letters of agreement would lose their jobs for the 2018-19 school year.
In the same motion the board also directed Roach to schedule a public forum at Lockhart to allow thie board to consider the information presented and make a decision concerning the best plan of action for the 2018-2019 instructional year.
Roach said that on Tuesday, Feb. 27, he met with employees of Lockhart School to share with them what had been voted on at the board meeting the previous night and to answer any questions they might have. He said that on Wednesday, Feb. 28, Disrict Director of Human Resources Jeff Stribble met individually with each employee to discuss their possible placement for the 2018-19 school year.
Then, on Monday, March 5, the board held a Public Forum where parents, students, and elected officials were given the opportunity to speak to the board. Any other concerned community member also had the opportunity to voice their concerns in writing to the School Board.
At the conclusion of the forum the board approved a motion by Trustee Jane Hammett, seconded by McMorris, to schedule a special meeting to review the data received in order to formulate a plan regarding the school. The motion was approved 7-1 with Massey voting no and Jeter being absent.
That vote is what lead to Monday’s special meeting during which Roach not only reviewed the information he’s previously presented the board with but also addressed questions raised by Lockhart residents during the March 5 forum.
Concerning the transportation of students now attending school in Lockhart to other schools in Union and/or Jonesville, Roach said “it has been mentioned that the district will have to pay more for transporting students if Lockhart is closed. The State pays for normal bus routes and the only time Districts must pay is when routes deviate from the normal route. If Lockhart is closed, the new routes will be submitted to the State and the State would therefore assume financial responsibility for those routes. Also, the State law states that no student can be on a bus for longer than 90 minutes. The transportation department has drawn possible routes and assures us that no new route would violate that law. “
On the issue of overcrowded classrooms, Roach said “it has been mentioned that many classrooms and/or schools in Union County are overcrowded. We have run the projected numbers for each grade at each school for next year and Foster Park Elementary is the school most impacted. Our district adopted a 22:1 student to teacher ratio for the purpose of allocating teachers to schools. The class caps for the State of SC is 30 for K-6 and 35 7-12. We are well under this cap in all of our schools.”
As for the question of “why this year is important in terms of employees,” Roach said. “the TERI plan ended this year so there are more teachers who are leaving the system and therefore we have spots for the teachers from Lockhart this year. Next year there may not be as many vacancies and therefore we would have two options: Keep more teachers than required or send the last hired home to accommodate for those teachers.”
Roach also addressed the question of where the savings from closing the school will come from. He said that “Human Resources makes up the bulk of any budget and Lockhart is no different. The salary and benefits of staff equals close to $1.8 million dollars. The 36 staff members will be taking positions in the district that are currently vacant positions due to retirement, resignations, etc.”
As part of his research into the issue of the future of the school, Roach said that he reviewed board policies and discovered the following
• Policy DA states that… “The quantity and quality of learning programs are directly dependent on the funding provided and the effective, efficient management of those funds. Therefore, achievement of the district’s purposes can best be made through excellent fiscal management. As trustee of local, state, and federal funds allocated for use in public education, the board will be vigilant in fulfilling its responsibility to see that these funds are used wisely.”
• Policy DB deals with the annual budget and states that… “The superintendent will have overall responsibility for budget preparation.”
• Policy DBD dealing with budget priorities states that… “needs of the district so that all segments of the district programs are treated equitably within the available resources.”
It was at that point that Roach posed his question as to the board’s pleasure in the matter and shortly thereafter the board voted to close Lockhart Elementary/Middle School at the end of the current school year.
The last day for students at the schools of Union County, including Lockhart School, is May 30.
For more about this story including the reactions of the residents of the Lockhart Community see Saturday’s edition of The Union Times and our website (www.uniondailytimes.com) and our Facebook page.
Charles Warner can be reached at 864-762-4090