Board sticking with middle school plan despite outcry

Nicole Daughhetee/Courier

Longtime Easley-area teacher Phalba Jeanes, dressed in a green shirt adorned with a “2 schools” sign, told school board members Monday night that the middle school years are the most difficult for children.

By Nicole Daughhetee, Courier Staff

EASLEY — Despite a standing-room-only crowd of vocal green-clad Easley community members imploring School District of Pickens County board trustees to reconsider a decision reached last month that quashed plans for two area middle schools, the board took no action in regards to the issue at Monday night’s regularly scheduled meeting.



Plans had called for students in Easley to split between a renovated Gettys Middle School and the new Brice Middle School, housed in the old Easley High School building, but the board voted May 25, with board chair and Easley representative Judy Edwards as the lone dissenting vote, to scrap renovation plans at Gettys and send all students to Brice.

Although the plan to have two middle schools had been in the works for several years, SDPC trustee Alex Saitta pointed out that the school district’s original building plan called only for the renovation of the high school into a middle school that would house all Easley-area students.

“The original plan passed in 2006 was to have one middle school in Easley, converting the old high school. That is what the board is doing now,” Saitta said. “The initial budget was $18.1 million. About $23 million will be spent on renovating that school now. Plenty of money is being spent on it. Parents will be impressed when it opens.”

The largest impediment to the construction of a second middle school in Easley is the lack of funding remaining in the building program budget — the highlights of which SDPC superintendent Dr. Kelly Pew reported to the board and audience members during Monday night’s meeting.

“When we met on June 4, we were at $9.3 million remaining in the building program. When we indicate tonight that we are at $1.087 million, I want to make sure everyone is clear that that includes phase one of Brice Middle School at an additional $905,000,” said Pew. “Which brings the cost of Brice up to about $16 million. It also includes phase two of EHS conversion, which is $7 million.”

Pew wanted to make certain that the board and the Pickens County community understand that the building program fund has not dwindled from $9.3 million to $1.087 million without additional funds being encumbered since the prior meeting.

These costs include a new 20-classroom wing, furniture and OSF inspections required for the EHS conversion to Brice Middle School.

In total, approximately $23 million is being spent on the conversion, yet many parents in the Easley community insist that the money would be better spent on two separate middle schools, even if the Gettys building is not as aesthetically pleasing as the Brice campus promises to be.

What concerns so many is how the SDPC plans to fit more than 1,350 students on a campus constructed to accommodate a capacity of 700 students without taking into consideration the rapid growth rate in Easley’s population.

Saitta dismissed the notion that one middle school would be inadequate for all Easley-area students.

“Right now Gettys Middle is 146,000 square feet with 1,352 students,” he said. “The new middle school will be more than 200,000 square feet, or a 60,000 square foot increase.

“Right now it is costing the district more than $2.3 million to run all this new square footage, and the district can’t afford that. If a second middle school was added, it would have cost $700,000 more a year to run. Where is the district going to get that money?”

Community member Robert Dye, whose children have already completed middle school in Easley, told board trustees at Monday night’s meeting that he didn’t have a personal stake in the issue other than advocating for what is best for the county and the Easley area.

“It’s not that we want the maximum amount of dollars per student. We want an adequate amount of facilities for our students,” Dye said. “When you talk to the professionals and the teachers, I haven’t come across one yet that thinks we have a very tenable situation going forward with one very large school.”

Phalba Jeanes, a 30-year veteran teacher at Gettys and Easley High, said that the middle school years are by far the most difficult and traumatic in a child’s educational experience.

“Many kids come from homes with serious problems. Regardless of their background, when they walk through the doors of their school, they deserve to be cared for deeply,” said Jeanes. “If you have over 1,000 children in one school, all the adults there cannot possibly learn their names. If you can’t learn their names, how can you give them the individual attention and guidance they deserve?”

The vast majority of Easley community members, according to another area parent, Henry Wilson, are in favor of having two middle schools in Easley because their primary concern is that Easley’s children receive a quality education on par with the other smaller-sized middle schools in the district.

Edwards called for another board of trustees meeting to be held on July 11 to further discuss building program budget issues, although there are no indications that trustees will waver on the decision to stick with a single middle school in Easley.

“The building program now stands at $377.8 million. That is equivalent to building 37 new Easley libraries. I think the taxpayers of Pickens County have done enough for the children in terms of school facilities,” Saitta said. “The board voted to spend $1.6 million on repairing the roofs on Edwards (Middle School) and McKissick (Elementary) and replacing the fire alarm system at West End (Elementary).

“There really isn’t a lot of money left for such maintenance and repair, yet there are plenty of such needs coming down the pike. For this reason, I can’t understand why some on the board are so eager to add yet another school building to the district.”