The general public seems to be concerned with the potential reopening of Mayewood Middle School, given the sudden change in direction by the school board and cost considerations in the process.
Four of five Sumter residents who spoke at Monday …
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Four of five Sumter residents who spoke at Monday night's board meeting in public participation questioned the Sumter School District Board of Trustees on its 6-3 vote last month to rescind the closure of Mayewood from 11 months ago.
The middle school's enrollment last year was down to 141 students following at least a 15-year trend of decline, and the school was closed by the board - consisting of five different trustees before the November midterm election - as a way to save money due to low enrollment. At the time, the district was emerging from a financial crisis from overspending its fiscal 2016 budget by $6.2 million.
This year, Mayewood students have moved into R.E. Davis Elementary School, which is less than two miles away. The school is now operating as R.E. Davis College Preparatory Academy, a K-8 school with a magnet curriculum.
Lavonda Johnson and Shaneika Cooper asked the board what motivated them to reopen Mayewood given the district's financial difficulties the past few years and if the district could afford the action and still reach one month's operating expenditures in its general fund balance by next year as required under a new state law.
Dwayne Budden said he wants to know how the board plans to bring on additional bus drivers for another campus when the district is already short on bus drivers.
"Are we going to bring in extra bus drivers, and how are we going to pay for that when we are not fully staffed at this time?" Budden asked.
Jay Linginfelter, an area Realtor, asked how the board could have come to its decision logically after it heard a detailed presentation from district administration on costs associated with reopening Mayewood.
District administration estimated one-time costs for reopening the school in the range of $963,000 to $1.2 million and recurring operating costs each year after that between $361,000 and $471,000.
The district's alternative school program, Brewington Academy, still operates on the Mayewood campus, and administration has had issues finding another suitable facility for the program as was its original plan with the closure process.
Linginfelter also noted the trustees voting to reopen Mayewood never offered suggestions for how to make the K-8 R.E. Davis school succeed.
"Never once did anyone ask how you could save money by keeping everyone at R.E. Davis and actually moving Brewington Academy as it was supposed to have taken place," Linginfelter said. "We didn't look at any of those solutions."
Local community activist Brenda Williams was the only public speaker who spoke in favor of continuing to move forward with reopening Mayewood. She said she admired the board's tenacity to appeal State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman's fiscal emergency declaration in the district after its decision to reopen Mayewood.
The school board is appealing the declaration to the state Board of Education with a hearing to be scheduled for later this month.
Williams said she thinks the state department and state board have no business in local affairs.
The board's goal in its appeal response will be to present a financial plan that includes reopening Mayewood while also achieving one month's operating expenditures in the fund balance by next year, according to Chairman the Rev. Ralph Canty.
Canty said the new plan will involve budget cuts to include personnel.
Also at Monday's meeting, the board took no action after a discussion on reopening F.J. DeLaine Elementary in Wedgefield. F.J. DeLaine also closed last year with Mayewood, and its students this year attend Cherryvale Elementary School, which is three miles away.
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