There is one belief that unites everyone living in Charleston County. Everyone wants all children in our community to grow up happy, healthy, productive, and able to accomplish whatever they dream.
All children — not “my” children. We all are united in our common belief that all children deserve the opportunity to thrive.
And, everyone agrees the Charleston County School District is obligated to ensure each child receives a high quality excellent education with rigorous courses in a caring environment. An education that ensures all students will graduate with the skills necessary to achieve individual success.
Beyond that, our united belief splinters.
We don’t agree on “educational environment.”
Does it mean focusing on the basics — rigorous core courses with a complement of electives, CTE (Career Technical Education) classes, after-school sports and clubs? Does it mean providing meals to all children? Does it mean providing mental health services? Or, not spending money on wrap-around services so all the money can be focused on classes?
Does it mean magnet schools? Or, every child should attend the schools in his or her neighborhood? Does it mean architecturally stunning facilities? Or, standardized facilities without all the “fancy add-ons”?
We don’t agree on “rigorous.” Does it mean nationally normed tests? Or, only South Carolina-created standards and tests? Or, no high stakes tests at all? Does it mean holding teachers accountable for student outcomes? Or, holding teachers accountable for high quality delivery and the student responsible for the outcomes?
Does it mean Primary and Middle Grades Academies? Alternative schools? Advanced Placement courses? Personalized learning?
Here are the facts:
1. The Charleston County School District has not accomplished our community’s one united goal. ALL children have not graduated with the skills necessary to achieve individual success.
At the end of the 2014/2015 school year, 84 percent of African American third graders and 41 percent of Caucasian third graders were not reading at or above grade level per the ACT-Aspire test.
The ACT College Readiness exam results for high school juniors at the end of last school year show that 87 percent of African American students and 26 percent of Caucasian students were not prepared to pass college level English courses.
In the fall of 2015, 419 CCSD graduates enrolled into Trident Technical College; 348 of those new college students had to pass at least one developmental studies course — a non-credit-bearing course — before beginning college courses.
2. The Charleston County School District does not clearly know how much funding is needed to ensure each child receives a high quality excellent education with rigorous courses in a caring environment, an education that assures all graduates will have mastered the skills necessary to achieve individual success.
The General Operating Fund Expenditures rose from $334 million in 2011/2012 to $427 million in 2015/2016. A total of $62 million of that increase was due to annual state mandated salary increases, rising utility costs, and student growth. However, $31 million was spent on additional school programs and educational initiatives over those five years (see No. 1!).
Our recent audits show that, during those same years, hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent on unnecessary, non-education expenses ranging from IRS fines to astronomical amounts of unplanned overtime to continuing to pay former employees two months after their last day of work. This is simply unacceptable.
Our system has not been working; we must create an educational system that meets the needs of all children, provides a sustainable process to grow and evolve, and provides the necessary foundation for our future community and business leaders — today’s students.
Creating a public education system that works, implementing that system through staffing strategies and programs, and sustaining it through proper funding and policies will require bold action. Everything must be analyzed and evaluated against best practices and prior results. Things will change.
While there will be disagreement, there will be inclusion and openness. Everyone — parents, stakeholders, employees and students — will be included. This has already begun with the Strategic 2020 Planning Team of teachers, parents, community leaders, and students. All proposals coming before the board are posted on the CCSD website two weeks prior to the board meeting.
The first 2016/2017 budget proposals came from principal roundtable groups. All board committee meetings and board public meetings are videotaped and posted on YouTube.
Constituent and County board members are committed to answering questions and explaining our position on district proposals; our email addresses are published on the district website.
If we expect our community to grow and prosper, we must work together and we must get this right.
Cindy Bohn Coats is chair of the Board of Trustees for the Charleston County School District.