Rep. Robert Brown proposes bill to regulate procedures for closing Charleston County schools
Charleston’s top school leader says she’s not planning on recommending the closure of any schools, but some rural residents fear that could happen sooner rather than later.
The possibility prompted state Rep. Robert Brown, D-Charleston, to file legislation earlier this month that would create procedures Charleston County School District would have to follow should it make such a proposal.
There’s not a chance of the bill passing this year, but Brown said he plans to build support for it during the coming months and reintroduce it next year. The bill only applies to Charleston County.
“I am concerned about another school closing in District 23 (Hollywood),” he said. “We had one a few years ago, and to have another would be really devastating to the community. We as a community are not going to sit idly by and just allow it to happen without making a lot of fuss.”
The school board closed five schools, including rural R.D. Schroder Middle in Hollywood, at the end of the 2008-09 school year to save money and give students better educational options.
Reviews of displaced students’ academic results have been mixed. Some students are worse off in English/language arts than they were in 2009, while scores for math have improved slightly. Actual financial savings from the change haven’t been calculated since 2010.
Josephine Matthews, vice chair of the District 23 constituent school board, said her board was told by Associate Superintendent James Winbush that a school closing wouldn’t happen in 2012-13, but it could be a possibility the following year. The community doesn’t want to lose another school, she said.
“We have a nice school they took a couple of years ago, and it’s sitting doing nothing and it’s a waste of state money,” she said.
School Superintendent Nancy McGinley said the conversation Winbush had with the board has been going on for the past two years. Given its rural schools’ low enrollment and the district’s tight budget, the community needs to think about solutions before one is forced upon them, she said.
“There is a point where we’re forced to say this is a very inefficient use of dollars to run a school that is less than 50 percent occupied,” she said. “We have the responsibility to be good stewards of taxpayers’ dollars.”
That said, the county school board hasn’t directed her to shut down any school, she said.
Brown’s bill calls for the district to have at least three public hearings for schools facing closure, and a quorum of the board must be present. The bill also requires the district to study the impact of closing the school, and that information would be forwarded to lawmakers.
Finally, the bill would force the district to reduce its tax rate in proportion to the savings the closure would generate.
The district had multiple community meetings before closing schools in 2009, and McGinley said the district always would have those. Officials also previously studied the impact of closing schools.
She took issue with the requirement that the tax rate be reduced, saying that negates any kind of cost savings the district could hope to realize.
“In my opinion, the work that needs to be done is creating an adequate funding stream for education,” she said. “If the education budget weren’t so inadequate, we wouldn’t have to be looking at all kinds of crazy ways to economize.”
Reach Diette Courrégé at @Diette on Twitter or 937-5546.