Weather Decisions…..

When there is a weather event, we always get questions about how decisions are made…I thought it might be useful to shed some light on how we approached the decisions we have made today.

We made the decision to open on a delay today based on concerns about cold temperatures, especially in the rural areas. Temperatures in Kershaw County can vary widely depending on where you are. We were also concerned about the dependability of our bus fleet, even though all buses were started and checked on Tuesday. The delay allowed us to verify that buses were ready to roll so that students weren’t standing for long periods of time in very cold temperatures waiting for their buses. The age of our bus fleet makes this even a bigger source of concern. (The State owns the school buses and has not funded an adequate replacement cycle for a long time, but that’s another story.)

We rechecked the weather forecast at about 4:30 a.m. this morning, and the predication was still that Kershaw County would be at worst on the outer edge of any precipitation. In a situation like this, we continually work with Emergency Services at the County to monitor the storm track. At about 10:00 a.m. the forecast for the track of the storm changed, putting us more in line for snow. At that point, we made the decision to dismiss early.

We will monitor what occurs throughout the afternoon, evening and overnight in order to make a decision about tomorrow. We are blessed to have tremendous cooperation and support from Public Safety folks, who help us monitor conditions across a very large county. District staff will also go out and personally check roads in the morning if necessary.

I also need to emphasize that in making decisions, we will always err to the side of caution and safety.

I hope this information is helpful.

Proposed Teacher Salary Increase

I read with great interest the article in Sunday’s State newspaper about State Superintendent Molly Spearman’s proposal to raise teacher salaries. I applaud her for using the visibility of her position to focus on this critically important issue.

That said, I hope Ms. Spearman and other political leaders also focus on the funding issue. The General Assembly has not funded its legal obligation for K-12 education since 2008. Kershaw County by itself has lost over $70 million during this period. If education had been funded as the law requires all along, we would not be in this pickle now.

Funding teacher salaries and school buses and all the other needs out there will require an overhaul of both the state’s archaic and dysfunctional tax structure and the state’s illogical and frankly discriminatory school funding formula. It’s certainly a good thing to talk about needs…But this conversation must also include how to generate the funding to meet these needs.

Some very viable proposals on tax structure and school funding have been presented over the last several years and gone nowhere. Unless the money issue is addressed, Ms Spearman’s very appropriate idea will just be something that gives teachers more false hope.

I do find it interesting, however, that the folks in Columbia can always find funding for more testing….school buses and teacher salaries not so much.

My view from out here in the field….

Mr. Bobby Jones

It was with great sadness that I learned of the passing of Mr. Bobby Jones. Mr. Jones gave a lifetime of service to Kershaw County as an educator, as a Highway Commissioner, and as a leader in countless other community endeavors. During my time here, Mr. Jones frequently gave me very wise counsel on a number of issues. He had a great deal of wisdom about life and people. Mr. Jones also had a special place in his heart for young people, and he worked with schools on anti-drug education right up to just a few weeks ago. He will be greatly missed by so many in our community. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Mary and his family.

Camden High Hall of Fame Induction

I was honored to be able to attend the Camden High School Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony last night. The Class of 2017 included Ms. Alfred Mae Drakeford, Dr. Paul Joseph, Sr., Dr. Janet Marshall, Mr. Patrick Davis, Mr. Austin Sheehen, and Mr. Thomas “Daddy Mac” McLester (posthumously). The Camden High School Improvement Council started this program last year, and it has been a resounding success! This was a wonderful celebration of the community!!!

This Made My Day!!!

This morning, I got to talking with a young man who attends one of our middle schools. When he was first starting school, I remember how he struggled with both academics and behavior. Today, he’s taking advanced classes and has become very poised and mature. This didn’t just happen. Teachers and administrators and a lot of other folks worked with his family and more importantly, didn’t give up. There are numerous stories like this in our schools. That’s what makes this district and community so special!

Letter About Accountability Proposal

This letter was published in both the State newspaper and the Chronicle-Independent…..

A recent national survey done by Gallup and the respected education organization Phi Delta Kappa had some very enlightening things to say about the obsession with standardized testing that has gripped our country for the past 20-25 years.

The survey strongly indicated that parents across demographic groups believe that standardized testing is both overemphasized and that such testing is not an accurate indicator of educational quality. Parents in our state and across the nation have reached their saturation point with standardized testing.

Therefore, it is disturbing that the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee (EOC) is about to adopt an accountability system that bases 90% of the accountability for elementary and middle schools on standardized testing.

This accountability system would also require more standardized testing than is being mandated by the federal government. In addition, the ratings categories being considered by the EOC will always identify 20% of all schools as “failing” no matter how much improvement occurs.

The EOC has botched an opportunity with this tone deaf proposal by resorting to the same old warmed-over bubble tests. The EOC needs to come up with something

Rezoning Request in Elgin Area

I recently provided this information to the County concerning a rezoning proposal in the Elgin area under consideration by County Council….     

Thank you for the information concerning the pending rezoning requests in the Elgin area. Based on the information you provided, an additional 352 lots would be available for residential development.

Homes built on these lots would be served by Doby’s Mill Elementary, Stover Middle, and Lugoff-Elgin High.

As a rule of thumb, we calculate that each of these homes would generate an average of 1 elementary student, .5 middle school student, and .5 high school student. Using this calculation, over the course of the buildout of these units, the new homes would generate about 352 elementary students, 176 middle school students, and 176 high school students.

This number of students would undoubtedly tax the capacities of these schools, even though capacity for 150 additional students is being built through the Referendum funding at Doby’s Mill and Stover. It had been hoped that elementary lines in the Elgin area could be redrawn to use the additional capacity at Doby’s Mill to relieve enrollment stress at Blaney. 352 more elementary students at Doby’s Mill would make this difficult.

Lugoff-Elgin High School currently has 1,650 students. At any given time of the day 200-250 students are off site at ATEC or Central Carolina. With the Annex facility, LEHS has a capacity of about 2,000 students. Obviously, 176 additional students would push the school towards the 2,000 mark more quickly.

352 elementary students will require about 14 teachers based on a 25:1 ratio and approximately 3.5 Special Education teachers assuming a normal distribution of Special Education students at a 100:1 ratio. If average salary and benefits for new staff is about $65,000, the cost of the additional teachers is about $1.14 million. 17 new classrooms will generate about $15,400 per classroom ($261,800 total) in startup costs and $368,791 per year in operating costs. Additional buses and drivers would also have to be added. The average cost of a bus is around $100,000 (supplied by the State) and drivers are paid around $25,000 per year (funded locally). This level of increase in students is equivalent to another entire school.

For comparison, Midway Elementary has approximately 400 students. The annual cost to operate that school is $2,272,000 which includes all teachers, Principal, other clerical and custodial staff and all operating expenses. The construction cost to add an additional 17 classrooms would be around $7,800,000 based on current cost for building six new classrooms at Doby’s Mill Elementary.

This continued development in the West Wateree area will create both space and funding challenges. As I indicated to County Council on August 22, primary residences generate no operational funding for schools based on Act 388. Primary residences do generate operational funding for County services.

I hope this information is helpful. Please let me know if you have any questions.