Consolidation again among options being considered for county schools

By Greg Oliver
Courtesy The Journal

EASLEY — A number of options, including school consolidation, are on the table for consideration by Pickens County School Board members as they look at the long-range future of academics and facilities in the district.

The consolidation of Hagood Elementary School, in particular, was among a number of options presented to the board last week by the firm of Jumper Carter Sease.

While the consolidation option of Hagood was proposed in order to house other district programs such as Adult Education and Alternative Education, district spokesman John Eby said details of rezoning student attendance areas for Hagood Elementary were not part of the consultants’ presentation, nor has any action been taken by the board on any of the recommendations or plans presented.

“The authority to consolidate schools lies solely with the board of trustees,” Eby said. “While the district has made no recommendation on Hagood or moving central services, should they take action it would obviously have an impact on the capital needs plan, so revisions and new recommendations would have to be made accordingly.

“Our goal is to determine a permanent home for Alternative Education in time for the 2017-18 school year.”

During the school board retreat last summer, trustees and district administration reviewed the academic and operational position of its schools and discussed various ideas regarding long-term planning.

In order to help facilitate the process, the district hired JCS in September to provide recommendations regarding the efficient use of many of its programs and buildings.

The firm was told the two most important goals involved looking for a place to house the alternative program and to relocate Accountability, Information and Technology Services and Operations due to South Carolina Department of Transportation work taking place at the current Ann Street location.

Last week, several master plan options were presented to the board by the firm. Each of the options, district officials say, address in some way the facilities or programs the board requested they examine.

The district is recommending that either Plan B or C for capital needs be adopted, with Plan B allowing the district to keep its facilities in good shape, while Plan C would move the district closer to what officials say is “achieving our vision” by expanding the programs it can offer.

If the board were to adopt Plan C, the additional funding required would all come from the fund-balance.

But district officials, who favor Plan B, said they would not recommend using more than $2,158,207 toward capital needs and remaining additional funding would have to come from a tax increase or an unexpected financial windfall.

JCS also addressed moving Adult Education to the Northside facility and using vacant buildings at the former B.J. Skelton Career Center for housing central services, currently located in the Curtis A. Sidden Building on Griffin Mill Road in Easley, as well as nutritional services and transportation and operational services.

Eby said the presentation by the consultant “has started the process.”

“We will continue to explore the most efficient ways to bring the greatest value possible to our students,” he said. “Our long-range planning must not be comprised of year-to-year thinking, but must be focused on long-range planning and a vision for our facilities. We are completing a 25-year study of our facilities in early 2016.”

But trustee Alex Saitta said he is concerned with the finances involved, adding it cost $50,000 for the firm just to perform the study and much more to address facilities recommendations.

“The general fund is already spending $500,000 more than it is bringing in, and the capital maintenance plan that has been proposed will spend $2.2 million more than is coming in,” Saitta said. “Plugging the deficit with savings can only last so long because savings are being run down to zero. The district has put forth plans to spend $15 million to $22 million in new construction and renovation, and there is no money for that.”

District officials say their goal is to be as transparent as possible throughout the decision-making process while also being clear about the impact those decisions will have once they are made.