This year will be the last for five Charleston County schools.
The school board decided Monday in a series of more than a dozen votes to adopt School Superintendent Nancy McGinley's plan to close five schools and restructure others. The decision should save $5.3 million next year as the district tries to overcome a projected $28 million deficit. But it also will affect the lives of hundreds, such as Charlestowne Academy freshman Julie Cadle.
"I've grown up with most people around there," said Cadle of her K-12 magnet school in North Charleston. "We help each other out. We've got good communication with our teachers, and some teachers have been with us since third grade. It's going to be weird for all of us. It's a small school, but we still get a good education."
Families across the district, particularly those tied to the five schools slated for closure — Brentwood Middle, Charlestowne Academy, Fraser Elementary, McClellanville Middle and Schroder Middle — likely will feel similar heartache as they try to cope with the board's decision.
Then again, others may not. Only 23 people signed up to speak during
Monday's meeting, and none spoke in support of keeping Brentwood, McClellanville or Schroder middle schools open. Many spoke in support of Fraser Elementary, some asked the board to delay its decision and others spoke in favor of the superintendent's recommendations.
The board voted on each piece of McGinley's proposal separately, and three board members — Chris Collins, Elizabeth Kandrac and Ray Toler — cast opposing votes on different motions. For example, Collins and Toler voted against the recommendation for McClellanville Middle, while Toler and Kandrac cast "no" votes on Charlestowne Academy. On other motions, such as grade modifications at Jane Edwards Elementary, the board was unanimous.
During the meeting, Toler and Collins explained reasons for their opposition. Toler didn't agree with moving seventh- and eighth-graders to a high school campus, and Collins again asked the board to slow down.
"I'm not trying to be insulting, but to my knowledge, I don't know of any other (South Carolina) schools that are closing," Collins said. "We have to find a better way to handle our money to prepare our district for hard times."
Afterward, Kandrac said she felt like she wasn't "going to get anywhere" by voting her opposition and that it was a "losing battle."
District officials immediately will begin work on logistics of implementing the plan, and that includes determining where staff will go and working with constituent school boards to redraw attendance lines. There was no discussion of the number of positions that will be lost in the process. A Post and Courier analysis Sunday found that 92 percent of the $5.3 million savings will come from the loss of jobs.
Some board members said they understood the move to close schools in light of the district's bleak budget. Shuttered schools share four characteristics: historic academic struggles, declining enrollment, excess building capacity and above-average per pupil costs.
"We should've done something over 10 years ago," board member Ruth Jordan said. "We no longer can have third-world education systems in this district. We can no longer go along with mediocrity for some and excellence for others. We have had failing schools for years, and it is now time to do what is right and put children in greater education environments. ... We can no longer put it off for another day."
Some left the meeting disgusted and disheartened.
"I just think it's sad what they do to these children," said Jacqui Stewart, who has two children at Charleston Progressive, which will lose its seventh and eighth grades next year. "They can make these decisions because they don't have children who attend any of these schools. We're not going to tolerate it."
Before the school board meeting began, more than 20 students and parents picketed outside the district office to show support for the district's strings program. School leaders will have to make additional cuts for next year's budget, and cuts to music programs were suggested as a potential option.
Critical Choices: Responding to a New Fiscal Reality, final recommendations for school redesign from the Charleston County School District (11 page Word document)