HICKS COLUMN: School board just says yes to Sullivan's
So the Charleston County School Board showed some intestinal fortitude this week and voted to start building the new Sullivan's Island Elementary School.
Good job — it's about time.
For a couple years now, island children have been stoically attending classes at the old Whitesides Elementary in Mount Pleasant while the adults acted like kids.
See, the district shut down five earthquake-prone schools a couple years ago to replace them with new ones. Four of them are almost finished; work hasn't started on Sullivan's.
That's because some islanders have objected to the size of the new Sullivan's school (twice the size of the old one), and the location (the same spot where the old one sat).
They've gotten up petitions, called for a referendum, offered alternative sites. And on Friday, some of them filed a lawsuit as a last-ditch effort to derail the school board vote.
The fact that the board didn't even flinch says something about this lawsuit.
Some islanders say they didn't learn about the plans for this new school until it was a done deal.
Well, it was debated in public hearings and council meetings for months, so whose fault is that?
But there were a lot of naysayers at those meetings, and they put forth all the arguments you're hearing now. Mayor Pro Tem Mike Perkis says the town tried to negotiate with those folks, but they wouldn't offer a reasonable alternative that worked. They only wanted a school that was the same size as the old one.
But the district, for economic reasons, won't build a school for fewer than 500 students — not for rich folks, not for anybody.
Apparently, some people just can't take “No” for an answer, no matter how many times they hear it.
Time to pack it in
School district attorney John Emerson, while not discussing the details of his advice to the board, says he didn't think the lawsuit should have an impact on their decision.
“I didn't see a tremendous amount of merit in the lawsuit and did not feel like it should stop the board from taking any steps it wanted to take,” Emerson says.
That speaks volumes, because the district wouldn't waste money on construction if it feared the courts would pull the plug later.
Emerson's opinion mirrors that of the town's legal counsel, which says a referendum can't be used to dictate administrative matters. Basically, you can't un-sign a lease, people.
Perkis says he hopes the lawsuit will be withdrawn before more lawyers get rich off a fight that's going nowhere. And he hopes these residents with concerns about the school will now come onboard and help with the final design decisions.
It's a nice offer, and a reasonable one. Because the town will fight this if it needs to, and that will just cost everyone a lot of money. Folks need to understand that in politics, you win some, you lose some.
Instead of acting like Congress, Sullivan's Island should come together and make sure those kids come back to the best school they can.
That's far more important than square footage.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org.