Courier Letters to the Editor 3-9-16

Tax increase needed to save schools

Dear Editor,

I attended the Monday night meeting of the Stakeholders Committee for the School Board Facilities Committee. I do appreciate the time and energy devoted to the tasks given this diverse and dedicated group of Pickens citizens. I attended in support of finding ways to keep Ambler, A.R. Lewis and Holly Springs elementary schools open. There are some important takeaways that must be shared — and soon.

1. This catastrophe-in-the-making is not something that has come about just in the last month, or eight months, or 11 months. It has been brewing for quite a while. A long-time, organized effort to keep taxes down, apparently at any expense, has placed our entire school district in jeopardy. No longer can this situation be shoved to the back burner, tabled for further research or referred to committee. It is evident that the communities represented by these committee members know that the disunity of our school board is the greatest contributor to our current crisis. I wonder what AdvancED thinks about this current proposal. SDPC administrators are not the “bad guys” here — the recommendations they present to the board must fall within law. Our budget is sound and transparent, but we cannot spend more than we bring in.

2. The Pickens County School Board must decide quickly on plans to address critical needs. It must not be considered a stop-gap measure. The research presented at the meeting showed that every school in our district will eventually be affected by the current proposal. Two viable solutions were presented last night, and both can work. My preferred solution is to increase the Pickens County sales tax. Yes, I used that four letter word — TAXX! Keep reading — a 1 percent sales tax would be added to prepared food. This is a tax that we choose to pay when we choose to eat out. It will not be added to groceries. It is not a property tax. This increase is conservatively projected to bring a substantial amount of dollars to the school district’s coffers. A penny sales tax would decrease everyone’s property tax, including commercial and investment property owners. This proposal will have a 10-year limitation. By law, 10 percent must be used to reduce district debt, which will in turn, reduce tax. The balance of the revenue must be spent on capital needs in the district — in other words, things (buildings and technology), not people. The provisions for business owners may be an encouragement for potential businesses moving to Pickens County. This is a win, win, win for our students, schools, and communities. This should debunk the theory of the organized anti-tax group in our county that all tax increases are bad. There are two major concerns, however; our board must be united in order for the community to see the critical importance of passing this in a county-wide referendum. In addition, a strong grassroots effort will be necessary to ensure that our citizens are convinced completely and quickly of the dire need for this tax. The potential for the revenue is amazing.

The second solution involves using school buildings for charter schools. From the reports presented on Monday evening, starting a charter school will take more time than we have for a 2016-2017 opening. If the board will give the time needed to work toward this solution, we will need to work like crazy and pass the 1 percent tax increase (the consumer tax) in November, then work toward offering public charter schools through the SDPC beginning in the 2017-2018 school year.

I know that Pickens County can and must provide a “free quality public education for all students.” I am ready and eager to do my part.

Vickie Gibson


A mountain treasure

Dear Editor,

For the past 18 years, I have been helping with the Holly Springs Garden Club. People should know what a valuable resource our district has in Holly Springs Elementary School. Besides having the community of parents, volunteers and teachers working together to improve many aspects of our students’ lives, we have the physical grounds that foster an interest in science that rivals any field trip we have taken.

Our active garden club now has about 30 students that meet after school. Years before STEM and Career Ready Standards, we were problem-solving and collaborating with each other. There is a combination of older students working with younger ones in each garden group. We are affiliated with Pickens Garden Club, which enables students to win numerous youth awards sponsored by the Garden Clubs of South Carolina. At the present, we have a Lifetime Certified Schoolyard Habitat from the National Wildlife Federation, Carolina Yard Recognition and we are progressing in the Green Steps Program.

Over the years, students have created several gardens — a butterfly garden, which students designed into north, south, east and west sections; a vegetable garden; and a woodland rain garden. For the rain garden, students met with a landscape architect, who took their designs and meshed them together to help with stormwater runoff. In this garden are planted jonquil bulbs donated from the original Andrew Pickens home place. We collaborate with Clemson Extension Service, native plant specialists and master gardeners. This collaboration also gave students an opportunity to lay out and dig a bioswale to help solve a water drainage problem between the wings of the school.

Volunteers from the Vineyards helped students build bird houses and place them around the school. As a result, many students recognize native plants and birds that frequent our garden. On our last field trip to Table Rock State Park, students were knowledgeable of those birds and plants.

Students have created an environment around the school that enhances both writing and art. In warmer weather, students sit in our colorful gardens, listen to nature and write. What a wonderful way to reflect on what you learn, read about and observe! Currently, the art teacher and I are collaborating on how to work in smaller groups so part of second grade can garden while the other part does art with nature.

Volunteers are working on repairing the greenhouse, so students can grow and experiment with planting our own seeds with compost we use after collecting leftover food from lunch. We have a huge storage container for our numerous tools which were acquired with grant money. Many projects are ongoing.

It will be disheartening to dismantle what we have invested in over the years. This scenic environment fosters a love of the outdoors and conservation. Losing Holly Springs and its location is a decision that will be regretted in the future. This is a valuable resource for math, science and outdoor learning!

Ann Bowen

Holly Springs Elementary

Second Grade Teacher

‘Just say no’ to closings

Dear Editor,

In the midst of the school board still trying to push to close our small community schools, one fact is still predominant — that we, as a community, need to stand strong and unite to keep this from happening!

It’s easy to get complacent when they put a vote off for a couple weeks, but the threat is still looming and very real. We need to get involved. Be vocal! Show your support in keeping our schools open! We have board members who are from outside our immediate community and therefore, the closing of these schools doesn’t personally affect them. They do not have children in our “mountain schools” who will be displaced and heartbroken.

I saw a sign along the road here in Pickens that said “Save the schools … Oust the board,” and that is so true. We need people from Clemson and Easley who are willing to run for election on these two seats, who care about our schools and have a community mindset. We need to vote and let our voices and wishes be heard!

I know that there are actually three seats coming open, however, Alex Saitta, in my opinion, should stay, as he does want to keep the schools open and has demonstrated his leadership in our community and appreciates our values. I think some of the board members forget who exactly they represent.

I emailed and/or wrote to every single board member, and the only two board members who are great about responding are Henry Wilson and Alex Saitta. Big surprise, considering the others just want an easy answer to close the schools and open up more revenue to just blow on other “wants.”

Oh, and to the chair of the facilities committee, who was very clear about his position on not compromising and wants to close the schools — considering your original view was to have “greater emphasis on the classroom, local control and community values,” well, that is what we, as a community, are fighting for! Please try to think if it was your child or grandchild who attended one of these schools. Would you look at them with tears in their eyes, and tell them that you were going to close their school?

We teach our children to “just say no” to drugs, bullying and violence. This is something the board members need to try — “just say no” to closing our schools and preserve the community values that thrive in our “mountain schools!”

Laura Demler