Dear Finance Chair Palumbo, I am writing in response to the recent decision to postpone the allocation of the $400,000 funds earmarked for renovations to the R. E. Davis College Preparatory Academy's football field. It is important to note that this allocation was decided upon and approved by two of your current colleagues that happen to be the chair and vice chair. While I appreciate the prudence in wanting a clearer picture of costs, I would like to present a case for the urgent need to move forward without further delay. During your campaign, you touted your vast experience with budgets but your recent comments cause one to question that statement. When funds are allocated, those funds are to be used for that specific purpose and up to that amount. It does not mean that every dollar will be used, but it allows the project manager to move the project along with that amount guiding the work. Ensuring compliance with the approved allocation is the responsibility of the administration, not the board.
1. Unused funds: Based on your comments, I feel the need to inform you of your ignorance regarding the funds and work that has been done to address the deficiency created by the consolidation. The funds, amounting to $388,651, were initially designated for a field at R.E. Davis. The previous boards inquired into purchasing land adjacent to the currently occupied facility, surveyed the current campus for placement and completed a site check that was determined to be unusable by S.C. DHEC. Please note that this was done in conjunction with the R.E. Davis community, administration and school board. Work has been continuous and in partnership, but the allocated funding has remained unused for five years until a mutually agreeable plan was reached. Every year we delay its use is another year students miss out on the potential benefits of these funds. With inflation, the purchasing power of this fund may also decrease over time as well as the cost of completing this project increasing over this time. I ask you this question: What message does this send to our students and the community that is served by this facility that a previously approved allocation must receive your approval?
2. Prioritized needs over glamour: Your comments suggest a concern about spending taxpayer money frivolously. But the discussion should be centered on providing necessary amenities, not a nonexistent luxurious makeover. It should be known that your private conversations regarding the work at Mayewood for R.E. Davis could potentially cause Sumter High School's stadium to be less appealing is deeply troubling and concerning. Renovations, as you are fully aware, can be tailored to meet the needs of the students, without overspending one single dollar. This community has been the target of various school board compositions since 2018 with the consolidation of the two school facilities. The students at R.E. Davis College Preparatory Academy deserve to have a facility that is comparable to the other facilities that are utilized by our middle school students across Sumter County and City of Sumter.
3. I would like to express my concern regarding your use of the term "out there" when referring to the students at R.E. Davis College Preparatory Academy, which is the only school in the district with this designation. Your use of this term is derogatory and exclusionary towards students attending rural schools, implying their needs require special evaluation before previously earmarked funds can be released. The number of students or their location has no merit in addressing the needs of our students and the community in which they come from. This kind of language and excessive evaluation is not required for city schools. Therefore, I advise that you reconsider your comments about the students and the community who reside "out there."
In conclusion, while cost efficiency and prudent spending are vital, the need to promptly address the state of our school facilities is equally crucial. Our students deserve to practice, play and thrive in environments that are safe and well-maintained. I urge you to consider an expedited approach to funds previously voted on and approved are spent as allocated with no further delay. This is a matter of educational equity, infringes on our students' and communities' civil rights and violates our state's constitution.
BRIAN ALSTON and LENORE JACKSON
Combined Influence LLC
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