BY RUTH JORDAN
Every two years new members are elected to serve on the Charleston County School Board. This change comes with the huge responsibility of informing and educating new board members, ensuring district administrators and current board members are held accountable for important school district initiatives approved by the community, business leaders and parents.
The Lowcountry Tech Academy (LCT) initiative has been in the works for six years and will begin on the “shared” Rivers Campus in January. Millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent to renovate the Rivers Campus to house both the Charleston Math & Science and the Lowcountry Tech Academy.
We must move forward and not go back on our promise to CCSD students and parents. The district and board have gone beyond the call of duty to support the Charleston Charter School for Math & Science. Now, it is time to support the rest of the students in the district.
1) In 2006, the Charleston Charter School of Math & Science planning team submitted a request to the board to lease land space at the Rivers campus to install a mobile campus, and the planning team brief to the board showed they could do this with the funding provided by the charter formula. Despite push-back and public outcry from the community to not allow the new charter school to lease space at the Rivers site due to the Lowcountry Tech Academy, the board approved the request to allow the charter school to install a mobile campus on the Rivers site. But, once the board approved the request, the charter school told the board that it would cost them too much to lease mobiles. So, the board approved spending $3 million to buy mobiles, furniture and computers to get the charter school started.
2) The charter school then asked the board for the Rivers gym and cafeteria. The board agreed to spend additional funds to renovate the gym and cafeteria for this start-up charter.
3) Charter school supporters then argued that the Rivers campus did not need seismic renovations and upgrades when the district advocated moving forward with the plan that had been approved by the board to seismically renovate the Rivers campus from funds for the 2005/2010 building program. The charter team argued the Rivers campus only needed a “lipstick and rouge” paint job. They spent months trying to discredit the district’s plan, and they set back the work by at least a year.
4) When the board moved forward with the seismic renovation project, the charter group advocated accelerating the upfit work and agreed to a 60/40 split of the campus where the district’s Lowcountry Tech Academy would occupy 40 percent of the Rivers campus and the entire Charter School for Math & Science would fit into the 60 percent of the building, understanding that the auditorium would be converted into classroom space for the middle school.
5) The board supported this compromise and agreed to spend millions of unprogrammed funds from district’s program savings account to accelerate the upfit of Rivers campus versus fixing other district schools.
6) The renovations began; then the charter leadership advised the board they wanted to keep the auditorium and were willing to keep their middle school program in mobiles until a new middle school building could be approved on a future referendum. So, the board approved an upfit scheme that kept the auditorium.
7) We are a month away from the Lowcountry Tech Academy opening in the designated space (40 percent). I am disappointed that the charter supporters are now attacking Lowcountry Tech Academy and want the entire building. The district has worked closely with industry leaders and the community to start Lowcountry Tech in January. The programs planned to be offered at LCT will prepare students across the county for the well-paying, high tech jobs in the “digital corridor.”
It is important that the Charter School honor its agreement with the district.
No start-up charter school in South Carolina has received more support from a host school district than the Charleston Charter School for Math & Science.
Their choice to keep the auditorium has consequences; they could have fit their entire school in the 60 percent space in the building but chose not to.
I urge the new board to honor these agreements and not kill a promising program that is a part of the district’s regional master plan to provide high quality career technical education programs to high school students in West Ashley, Charleston and North Charleston before it even starts to give the charter school the entire Rivers campus.
I challenge the board not to wobble.
Let’s not play “bait and switch” now.
Ruth Jordan is a former chair of the Charleston County School Board.