BY THE REV. JOSEPH A. DARBY
An Oct. 26 column by Charleston County School Superintendent Nancy McGinley described how a School District promise to the community would be kept with the opening of Lowcountry Tech on the Rivers Campus in January 2013. A Nov. 4 column by Robert New, Brian Moody, Leroy Connors and Park Dougherty accused Dr. McGinley of “recycling an old, hybrid plan” and argues for the location of Lowcountry Tech on the Burke High School campus, which would give the Charleston Charter School for Math and Science the use of the entire Rivers campus.
I commend Dr. McGinley and the school district for keeping their promise. I also, however, want to comment on the second column. What Mr. New and company denigrate as an “old, hybrid plan” is actually a commitment made by an 8-1 vote of the Charleston County School Board on Aug. 13, 2007 to have both schools share the Rivers campus. Let me remind the writers of how that process unfolded.
When the charter school’s founders first sought to claim the campus in 2006, plans for a technical school there were already being made. The charter school’s supporters generated influential pressure to impede that plan. The eventual board decision followed a May 22, 2007, public hearing where, as Mr. Moody and company note, “A solid majority favored, as the best use of the Rivers building, the Charleston Charter School for Math and Science.” That “solid majority,” however, was three out of five focus groups populated primarily by charter school supporters. Many citizens present were extremely frustrated because the district offered limited options instead of taking community input.
The school board took the evident pulse of the community in that meeting and agreed by majority vote that the charter and technical schools would share the Rivers campus. The decision matched the sentiments of Mr. Dougherty, who reportedly said in a Feb. 21, 2007 Post and Courier article that his group would be happy to share space in the Rivers building with another district program. He’s apparently had a change of heart.
Mr. Connors and company argue that the cost of locating both programs on the Rivers campus is ill-advised and fiscally irresponsible.
That’s ironic, because those who originally opposed the charter school occupying the Rivers campus made the same argument. We argued that rather than giving a charter school a public school building and using scarce public dollars for costly renovations and the purchase of mobile classrooms, the charter school could be located on the Burke High School campus.
The facility is still relatively new and underutilized, the cost would have been negligible and the shared campus would have enhanced the diversity that the charter school’s founders embraced as one of their goals. For reasons never stated, they didn’t consider that fiscally sensible option.
Mr. Dougherty and company rightfully note the diversity of charter school since its opening, but experience has shown that diversity can be fleeting. Buist Academy and the Academic Magnet High School began as diverse schools, but that diversity evaporated over time. A guarantee of diversity would have assured that the same thing doesn’t eventually happen at the charter school, but its founders resolutely refused to have the school district set concrete diversity goals.
I acknowledge the tenacity of Mr. Dougherty and company, but remind them that there can be a thin line between tenacity and arrogance. To demand two months before the opening of Lowcountry Tech on the Rivers campus that the school district break its promise to the community, discard years of work in planning for Lowcountry Tech — both in curriculum development and in the construction design of the renovated Rivers campus — and give the whole campus to the charter school at this late date is arrogant, fiscally imprudent and woefully lacking in common sense. Messrs. New, Moody, Connors and Dougherty rightfully said in the last sentence of their column that “It is time for common sense.”
I agree. Stick with the plan and let both schools strive for diversity and excellence on the Rivers campus.
That’s common sense — and decency as well.
The Rev. Joseph A. Darby is senior pastor of Morris Brown African Methodist Episcopal Church and first vice-president of the Charleston Branch NAACP.