Courier Letters to the Editor 9-17-14

Gillespie looks back at board tenure

Dear Editor,

I decided not to run for reelection for the school board because I can no longer devote the time necessary to being a school board trustee. I want to thank the public for their encouragement the last four years. I recently read my campaign flyer from four years ago and I am happy with what we accomplished.

From 2006 through 2008, superintendent Lee D’Andrea hired administrators from all around the state and paid them excessive starting salaries. This was taking money out of the classroom, and I pledged if I was elected to help “reduce excessive administrative salaries and redirect the savings to the classroom.” By promoting from within, consolidating positions and eliminating redundancy, administrative costs were reduced.

In 2010, administrative costs were $6.3 million, and in 2013 they had fallen to $6.0 million. Those savings, plus others, were redirected to the classroom. The 30 classroom teaching positions that were cut in 2009 were restored, and we added more.

In my flyer, I pledged, “Dr. (Henry) Hunt was a fine replacement (for Dr. D’Andrea), but he will retire in two years. If elected, I will vote to hire the next superintendent from within our system.” We did that. Dr. Danny Merck is now the superintendent. He was raised in Liberty, a graduate of Liberty High, taught in Liberty, and was the principal of Easley and Daniel high schools. He is promoting the winning culture that makes Pickens County schools great.

In 2010, we began to promote district leaders from within. As a result, most of our new principals and department heads have been promoted from within the district. Josh Young was a teacher and the assistant principal at Easley High. He is now the principal at Daniel High. Jeff Duncan, another homegrown talent, is the new principal of Edwards Middle. Cissy Floyd, who has been in our district for years, is the principal at Central Elementary this year. Mixing in the experienced leadership of Clif Alexander at Six Mile Elementary, the Six Mile/Central area has the some of the most talented principals in our district.

When I joined the board in November 2010, academic performance was on the decline, as highlighted in my campaign flyer, “The graduation rate has fallen from 78.6 percent to 72.6 percent… I will vote to change the direction of the curriculum department.”

In March 2011, the curriculum director was replaced, and we set an 80 percent graduation rate goal. Following the new director’s lead, we implemented a series of academic initiatives, adding classroom teachers, graduation coaches and reading specialists for students who were behind in reading. The graduation rate has risen four years in a row, and I believe this past year it reached 80 percent. We’ll know for sure when the official number is released.

Campaigning in 2010, I was most concerned with the rising level of debt and taxes passed by the school board of 2006. Total debt rose from $34 million to $351 million. Just as troubling, the district’s savings account was empty, and millions were borrowed to meet payroll late in October 2010. Tough decisions were made which benefited the district in the long run. Budgets were balanced not by raising tax rates, but by cutting waste and setting spending priorities to which we adhered. Under the oversight of the board, and the management of Dr. Hunt and Bob Folkman, building projects were delivered on time, on budget, and we haven’t borrowed a dime since 2010. As a result, we’ve paid down $50 million in debt.

When $13 million in extra interest was discovered, Ben Trotter, Alex Saitta, and I voted to set that money aside to pay down additional debt. During the 2010 to 2013 period, Trotter, Saitta, oftentimes Judy Edwards, and I, managed to set aside money, and we saved $3 million. The board, superintendent, district leaders, principals, teachers and support employees proved academic results can be improved in a school district that lives within its budget. Unfortunately, the direction is being reversed. In the first meeting after Trotter resigned, Jim Shelton, Herb Cooper and Edwards raided the escrow account and spent all the interest money that was set aside to pay down debt. Additionally, the $3 million in savings was spent — all in a single 3 to 2 vote.

You get the government you elect. In the Six Mile/Central race, I believe there is only one candidate who will vote to keep the district living within its means and make sure the money is put into the classroom. Phillip Bowers is a well-known conservative who has the background and experience for the job of school board trustee. He’s going to get my vote in November.

Jimmy Gillespie

School board trustee

Six Mile/Central