Sumter School District's Board of Trustees has provided no emails, text messages or other documentation of complaints from school parents or teachers pertaining to transition difficulties at R.E. Davis College Preparatory Academy this year.
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The Sumter Item asked to review any such documents in a Freedom of Information Act request from more than a month ago. In a letter last week in response to the newspaper's Feb. 22 request, district Executive Director of Communications Shelly Galloway said trustees had not provided her any formal complaints made via email from parents or teachers. She did say some board members said they had received complaints from conversations with people.
Jay Bender, attorney for the South Carolina Press Association, said last week it's his perspective that if board members have emails or other documentation on complaints related to R.E. Davis this year and they use that information in a public meeting, then it's a public record. Therefore, it should be submitted to the newspaper as part of its request.
"If those emails and documents formed the basis for action or consideration, then I would say that meets the definition of a public record, and they would have to be disclosed," Bender said.
He said that applies to board members using school district email accounts and also private email accounts.
On Thursday and Friday, The Sumter Item reached out to all nine trustees on the lack of correspondence of complaints with mixed success.
Board Chairman the Rev. Ralph Canty, trustee Johnny Hilton and at-large trustee Shawn Ragin said they have not received any complaints in any manner from parents or teachers related to the consolidation of Mayewood Middle School into the K-8 campus at R.E. Davis. All three voted against the reopening of Mayewood at the Feb. 11 board meeting.
Of the six trustees who voted in favor of reopening Mayewood, Sherril Ray and Brian Alston spoke to the paper last week. Both said they have not received any written communication from parents or teachers. They said they did have face-to-face conversations when visiting R.E. Davis, but they didn't record any documentation of those discussions.
In visits to the school, Ray said she spoke to parents, teachers and administrators who had complaints with the transition.
Last year, the full board at the time - consisting of five different trustees that changed over in the November midterm election - voted to close Mayewood and F.J. DeLaine Elementary School at the end of last school year because of what it said was low enrollment and as an effort to save money.
The district faced a financial crisis from fiscal year 2016, during which it overspent its budget by $6.2 million.
This year, Mayewood students have moved to R.E. Davis, which is 1.3 miles away. F.J. DeLaine students have moved to Cherryvale Elementary School three miles away.
In his visits to R.E. Davis, Alston said parents have discussed with him complaints about the configuration of the middle and elementary school students at the school.
Attempts to reach county at-large trustee Frank Baker, the Rev. Daryl McGhaney, Matthew "Mac" McLeod and Barbara Jackson - all who also voted to reopen Mayewood - were unsuccessful. Jackson represents Area 7, which includes Mayewood and R.E. Davis.
At board meetings since February, trustees in support of reopening Mayewood have pointed to a "rushed process" with the transition into R.E. Davis and overcrowding issues. A visit by The Sumter Item to R.E. Davis showed not a single middle school classroom is above capacity. Mayewood's enrollment is currently about 1 percent of Sumter School District's total student population.
Also, board members have noted that the district's alternative school, Brewington Academy, still operates on a portion of the Mayewood campus.
After voting to consolidate Mayewood into R.E. Davis, district administration tried to move Brewington, but it has said it wasn't able to find a suitable facility as of yet.
Administration has reported estimated first-year costs between $963,000 and $1.2 million to reopen the school with recurring annual costs between $360,000 and $471,000, numbers the board members in favor of reopening dispute.
Others don't have filed complaints
According to Galloway, R.E. Davis administrators and Interim Superintendent Debbie Hamm have also not received any emails of complaints from school parents or teachers at R.E. Davis this year on the consolidation.
Galloway did forward to The Sumter Item one email received by Hamm in late February by an R.E. Davis teacher, noting discipline issues with the former Mayewood middle schoolers at the school. The teacher said she didn't see how moving students back to Mayewood would solve the discipline problem.
Also, according to Galloway, in only one monthly School Improvement Council meeting at R.E. Davis this school year have problems with the transition been noted. That was the Nov. 29 meeting, and attendees discussed the need for a resource officer at the school.
Also of note, district school board meetings in recent months haven't been filled with parents of R.E. Davis' students. At least since the subject of rescinding the closure of Mayewood from last year was introduced in late January, no parent of an R.E. Davis student has spoken in public participation at a board meeting.
Sumter community members have spoken but not parents of students.
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