Sumter NAACP, community air concerns over possible school closures

BY BRUCE MILLS
bruce@theitem.com
Posted 2/15/18

About 55 community members in the Mayewood/R.E. Davis area of Sumter County turned out Tuesday night to voice their concerns about and opposition to a potential school closure in that area. The residents attended a community meeting organized by the …

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Sumter NAACP, community air concerns over possible school closures

Sumter resident Billy Shaw addresses the audience Tuesday during the NAACP community meeting at Eastern Community Center.
Sumter resident Billy Shaw addresses the audience Tuesday during the NAACP community meeting at Eastern Community Center.
BRUCE MILLS / THE SUMTER ITEM
Posted

About 55 community members in the Mayewood/R.E. Davis area of Sumter County turned out Tuesday night to voice their concerns about and opposition to a potential school closure in that area. The residents attended a community meeting organized by the Sumter County Branch of the NAACP at Eastern Community Center, 3675 E. Brewington Road.

Two Sumter school board members were also in attendance to listen to constituents, they said, and reassure them that no decisions on school closures have been made at this time.

Tuesday's meeting was the first of a series in the next few weeks in selected rural communities in the county that the Sumter NAACP has organized for schools that were identified last year for potential future closure as Sumter School District

officials were trying to best address a financial crisis from the previous fiscal year.

On April 24 of last year, the full school board voted down in a 4-2 split vote a motion from its advisory Finance Committee to close two schools at the end of last school year.

Mayewood Middle School, at 4300 E. Brewington Road in the eastern portion of the county, was one of those schools.

Mayewood remains open, but as the district's Board of Trustees grapples with a still-low general fund balance, recently it has commissioned two studies to take a comprehensive look at future facility utilization in the district.

The Sumter NAACP and community residents said Tuesday at their meeting that they think it is only a matter of time before Mayewood and the other low-enrollment schools are back on the chopping block by the district.

Sumter County NAACP Chapter President Elizabeth Kilgore said the local chapter is not responsible for the budget challenges the district faces.

"The Sumter NAACP did not create this problem," Kilgore said to attendees. "We're just bringing it to you for you to help us make a decision on it."

In the two-hour question-and-answer session, residents expressed their concerns with a potential closure of Mayewood - from not taking into account what's in the best interests of the students and the local community to a need for more bus drivers because bus routes to schools would be longer, they said.

Parents Robert and Tameka Oliver said they think their children who have or currently attend Mayewood perform better academically in a smaller school.

"Mayewood is a great and wonderful school," Robert Oliver said. "My daughter - she is the type of kid - she's able to learn more in smaller settings. But if she has to go to another school with more kids, my concern is would the teacher have not enough time to pay any attention to her?"

According to district data, Mayewood's current enrollment is 140 students.

Kilgore and other residents also expressed concerns with the board's Finance Committee and its chairman, William Byrd, who was appointed last year to the board as an at-large member by the local legislative delegation. The delegation also named another at-large board member, Bonnie Disney, to the school board in July when it decided to increase the board's size from seven to nine members in the wake of the district's financial crisis.

Both Byrd and Disney are up for election later this year as the public has its first opportunity to vote for or against them.

Kilgore encouraged residents to vote in this year's mid-term elections.

"This is an election year, folks," Kilgore said. "It's time for us to show up and show out. We have got to get out there."

School board Chairman the Rev. Daryl McGhaney and board member Barbara Jackson, who represents the Mayewood/R.E. Davis area, attended the meeting.

McGhaney emphasized to the gathering that the board has not made any decisions on school closures to date. He also said he was against automatically looking at rural, low-enrollment schools first for potential closure.

He said when the board decides to move forward on any discussions, community members will be involved in the process.

Jackson said she and McGhaney were paying close attention to comments Tuesday and taking notes.

"We came because we want to know your feelings," Jackson said. "I want to represent you to the best of my ability."

Kilgore said the NAACP's next community meeting will be Feb. 22 at Rafting Creek Community Center, 4050 N. Kings Highway in Rembert, on a potential closure of Rafting Creek Elementary School.

Interim Superintendent Debbie Hamm said previously the two facilities-related studies that are about to get underway by independent consultants will not directly advise the district and school board on closing particular schools. Instead, the studies will serve the purpose of fact gathering regarding future enrollment trends in various areas of the county and the physical condition of the district's 28 schools.

"Without the right information under our belt," she said previously, "we might make some decisions that aren't the best decisions."