Community fights to keep second Easley middle school

By Nicole Daughhetee, Courier Staff

EASLEY — The School District of Pickens County board of trustees decided in a May 28 meeting to alter the district’s building program plan, scrapping plans for a second Easley middle school.

Instead, board trustees voted 5-1, with Easley-area trustee Judy Edwards casting the lone dissenting vote, to retain one middle school in the city, making it large enough to house roughly 1,400 students.

Many people in the Easley area have expressed outrage at the board’s decision, with Easley mayor Larry Bagwell even saying during a special called board meeting last week that he thinks the city should create its own district so it will be fairly represented.

“There has been talk about starting a separate school district in Easley,” said Bagwell. “Now it is a necessity.”

Prior to May 28, the SDPC building plan involved the creation of two middle schools in Easley because of an over-crowded population at Gettys Middle School and continued growth in the Easley area.

The building plan called for two middle schools of equal size that would allow for an equitable division of resources and diversity of the student population. Under the plan, the current Gettys building would have received needed renovations and the former Easley High School would also undergo renovations and be renamed Brice Middle School.

Having two middle schools in Easley would have allowed Easley’s children to be on par with other middle school children in the district by attending a newly renovated middle school with approximately 625 students in each school. It would have also allowed for future growth with room at both locations for some expansion.

Board trustees have cited a shortage of funds in the building program as the reason a second Easley middle school was scrapped.

SDPC critic and former trustee Kevin Kay says that this simply isn’t the case.

“Everyone else in the district has gotten theirs, and they don’t want to pay for ours,” Kay said. “We’re the last car on the train, and they unhitched us. And we’re just drifting.”

Furthermore, Kay believes that the renovation of both schools can be completed using money available with no additional cost to taxpayers for the building program.

“The board says there is $9.3 million dollars left in the building program to complete the renovations, and it would cost approximately $16 million dollars to finish both schools equally,” said Kay. “There is over $9.3 million dollars of interest money earned from investment of the building funds that is available. Over the course of the building program, over $46 million of earned interest money has been used to supplement other building projects around the district.”

Those members of the Easley community who are only beginning to fight for a second middle school in Easley suggest that not only is there money available, but that the money belongs to the children of Easley as much as other children in the district.

“They value the dollar more than a child’s education,” said Bill Houston. “Smaller schools mean better education.”

Many parents and community members want to know why Easley will have only one middle scohol to accomodate 1,400 students when the average middle school in Pickens County serves approximately 580 students.

Brice Middle School will open its doors to roughly 1,350 students, and based on the population growth of Easley — the population grew at a faster rate (11 percent) than the rest of the county in the last census and Easley has a larger percentage of the district’s students (38 percent) and tax base than any other attendance zone in the county — the student population at Brice could continue to grow as well.

Various Easley community members have decided to band together in what they call an effort to ensure that their children will receive all the resources they need to receive a quality education, which means having two middle schools in the Easley area.

The new Easley High School auditorium will host a community meeting next Tuesday, June 18, at 6:30 p.m. to share information and discuss options for Easley’s educational future.

In the meantime, the group is asking the public to contact local State Representative Phil Owens and State Senator Larry Martin to voice concerns about the school board’s elimination of a second middle school from the building plan.