Beating a dead horse?

Editor’s Note: This is the sixth and final installment of a multi-part series of interviews conducted between Courier staff reporter Nicole Daughhetee and SDPC board trustee Jim Shelton, a former board chair.

The first time I sat down to talk with SDPC board trustee Jim Shelton, he asked me if I was familiar with the Five Whys Technique or approach to problem solving.
Feeling stupid for not being familiar with this technique (I am a journalist for heaven’s sake), I listened to Shelton explain this approach as a means of delving down to the root cause of a problem as opposed to simply identifying and treating superficial symptoms.
Again, I go back to the iceberg analogy from which this series of articles began to remind the public that for every eighth of information we glean during the public portion of local government meetings, there is another seven-eighths hidden (and I don’t mean in a malicious way) beneath the surface.
It is only when we begin to ask “why” and “why” again that we work our way below the surface to embrace a complete understanding of the root or seed from which an idea or series of events has grown.
Up to this point, Shelton and I have discussed the “what” of the Greenville Plan — the $315 million myth — the $91 million dollar hole in the budget — the A to Z details of the Greenville Plan.
What about the why?
“If you look at the Greenville plan comprehensively — from start to finish — I don’t see that night back in November of 2006 as being a singular event. I don’t think it was something that emerged or arose,” offered Shelton. “And the reason I say this is that looking at the overall facilities in our school district and county, you really can’t tell physically what’s going on with that building just driving past. Do you have foundation issues? Do you have mold issues? Do you have environmental issues? Do the roofs leak? Are the walls separating from the roofs? All of these things existed in many of the buildings, but especially the old ones.
“It didn’t take a rocket scientist to just drive by a random sampling of the schools and start counting the number of portable classrooms. At the time that the building plan was approved, I think we had in excess of 130 portable classrooms, which is equivalent to about five-and-a-half schools,” he said. “So, just doing simple mathematics, your facilities were already behind their required capacity by the equivalent of five-and-a-half schools. If you’re going to put in permanent facilities for this, and this is something that should have been done over a long period of time, but if you’re going to do that you’ve got to make up the difference of these portable classrooms by constructing brick and mortar classrooms.”
Looking back through SDPC board history, whether it is 2006, 2001, 1996 — however far back one chooses to search, the district had, from time to time, made offers in the form of referendums, suggestions, facilities studies and improvements; however, Shelton said that in every one of those instances, suggestions concerning facility improvements or new schools were rejected.
“What happened that November night in 2006 was the culmination of ignoring the problem and neglecting the problem. This was just the end of the process, not the beginning,” said Shelton. “I have to believe, and I can’t speak for these people, but I do know these people very well, that every member of the board that night that voted yes, along with a very intelligent and progressive superintendent, they were all acting in what they thought was the best interest not only of the students and employees of the school district, but also the county as a whole.
“To hold accountable and to vilify the people that actually said yes that night, to say this is all your fault is absolutely unfair, untrue and unwarranted.”
Shelton described a certain sense of frustration on the part of some of the longer serving board members because they had witnessed firsthand the deterioration and deplorable conditions of the schools in Pickens County.
They had seen environmental issues, safety issues, security issues and cost issues associated with having portable classrooms spring up everywhere. They noticed a detrimental effect on the overall scholastic and academic achievement on the students in Pickens County.
“I’m not going to say that a building or a place educates a child, but there is certainly a greater motivation to become more scholastically or academically successful if you’re in a clean, safe, comfortable environment as opposed to a portable device where you have to go in and out of the elements or worry about security issues,” Shelton explained. “There is no climate control. The HVAC is suspect at best — it’s also an energy hog — so when I look at Lee D’Andrea, Herb Cooper, Kevin Kay, Shirley Jones, June Hay, BJ Skelton and Jim Bryce — these are all good, decent, moral, upstanding people that made a decision in their minds that was in the best interest of everybody. And I’m totally convinced of that.”
Shelton continued.
“The reason that we ended up with the Greenville Plan was not just because six people said yes at the recommendation of one superintendent. I think equal blame and equal responsibility should be laid at the feet of people who for years and years and years stomped their feet and pounded their fists and said ‘no, no, no, no, no.’ Sooner or later that bubble was going to burst, and when the bubble did burst, it burst in the form of the Greenville Plan.”
Had people in Pickens County been willing to consider alternatives to making much-needed facilities improvements, perhaps the Greenville Plan would have never been considered as a viable option, Shelton suggested.
“One year before (the Greenville Plan) they had an opportunity to pass a $195 million referendum. They said no. Prior to that, there were other smaller initiatives out there, but they said no,” said Shelton. “Had they moved a little, come to some form of an agreement that says ‘you know what, we all know we have a facilities issue in front of us. Let’s not ignore it, but let’s find some way to do this.’”
It could have been a series of referendums where the SDPC issued bonds so the district would have a multi-year program in place that could be closely monitored. It might have been the maximum use of the 8 percent money that’s out there. Perhaps a comprehensive study of replace, repair and renovate.
“There’s any number of things that could have been done. But in each one of those cases, you have an element in the county that continues to pound the fists and say ‘no, no, no, no, no.’ Well you know what? You got what you deserved. Had you moved at least a little bit, we never would have had this Greenville Plan,” said Shelton. “So before people are so quick to blame what I consider to be seven good, honorable, decent people, for all this calamity that’s been brought upon the county, I think those people need to go back and look in the mirror and they need to say ‘We could have done something along the way here too.’
“And if they are honest with themselves, and I hope they are, they’re going to look in that mirror and they’re going to see their faces looking back at them and they’re going to say, this is part my fault too,” said Shelton. “It’s time to move on, folks. The Greenville Plan was six years ago. There is nothing we can do. Take the buildings back down brick-by-brick? There is nothing we can do to erase the debt. It’s here and every one of us is going to have to pay.
“Whether we agree or not, whether we like each other or not — move forward. I think it’s time to move on. Nothing is to be gained by continuing to beat this dead horse.”