School trustees OK plan to keep Mayewood Middle closed

Chairman Canty says board is shifting focus for greater good

BY BRUCE MILLS
bruce@theitem.com
Posted 5/15/19

Mayewood Middle School will remain closed next year.That decision was included in the Sumter school board's 5-3-1 vote late Monday to approve a new district administration fiscal recovery plan, and the board's chairman said he thinks the trustees …

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School trustees OK plan to keep Mayewood Middle closed

Chairman Canty says board is shifting focus for greater good

Posted

Mayewood Middle School will remain closed next year. That decision was included in the Sumter school board's 5-3-1 vote late Monday to approve a new district administration fiscal recovery plan, and the board's chairman said he thinks the trustees decided conclusively now to close the East Brewington Road campus.

Board Chairman the Rev. Ralph Canty told The Sumter Item Tuesday the discussion of reopening Mayewood created conflict in the community, an issue he said he feels the trustees want to move beyond.

"To achieve our goal of ensuring we develop a premier school district, we need the backing of the community," Canty said. "We are working to get beyond this confrontation so that the greater mission can be achieved."

A little after 9 p.m. Monday - after a two-plus-hour executive session - board member Johnny Hilton made the motion to approve the administration's new financial recovery plan to include middle school students remaining at this year's newly minted K-8 R.E. Davis College Preparatory Academy.

Those supporting Hilton's motion included Canty, Frank Baker, Shawn Ragin and Sherril Ray. The three board members voting against the motion were Brian Alston, Matthew "Mac" McLeod and the Rev. Daryl McGhaney. Barbara Jackson, in whose district Mayewood sits, abstained.

In passing the motion and budget plan, the trustees followed financial recommendations received last week from the state Department of Education. Canty said one of those recommendations was to not reopen Mayewood.

Earlier in the meeting, when district Chief Financial Officer Jennifer Miller addressed the district's fiscal emergency recovery plan process, she reiterated the state Department of Education continues to say it wants to work with the district in providing "technical assistance" and doesn't anticipate taking over the district's finance department.

Miller's financial report lasted about one minute in the open session, and there were no questions from board members. Later, the trustees went into executive session behind closed doors.

The board meeting at Lakewood High School's media center also started with a one-hour executive session at 5 p.m.

Monday night's vote ends a three-and-a-half-month debate that started Jan. 28 with a surprise board vote - later determined to be illegal according to state Freedom of Information Act laws - to reopen Mayewood for next year.

After the trustees officially voted 6-3 to reopen Mayewood at a six-hour board meeting in early February, State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman declared a fiscal emergency in Sumter because the trustees diverted from their own fiscal caution financial recovery plan from last year.

In April 2018, the full board at the time - albeit consisting of five different trustees who changed over in the November midterm election - voted to close Mayewood and F.J. DeLaine Elementary School in Wedgefield at the end of last school year because of what it said was low enrollment and as an effort to save money. The district is still coming out of a financial crisis from when it was revealed through the fiscal 2016 audit there was $6.2 million in overspending and the district's fund balance had drained to $106,449.

This year, Mayewood students - about 1% of the district-wide student enrollment - have moved to the former R.E. Davis Elementary School, which is 1.3 miles away, and the school has been renamed R.E. Davis K-8 College Preparatory Academy and operates with a magnet curriculum.

After Spearman's declaration, the board voted 7-2 to appeal it to the state Board of Education. On April 9, the state board voted unanimously to uphold the state superintendent's declaration and did not approve a district/trustees' financial recovery plan at the time that included reopening Mayewood.

The district spent more than $26,000 in attorney fees alone in its appeal process.

The rejected financial budget plan for next year factored annual operating costs for Mayewood Middle at $295,000.

During the last two years, the district has built its fund balance back up. According to Miller's calculations, it is projected to be about $9.4 million as of June 30. According to a 2017 state law, the district is required to have one month's operating expenditures in its fund balance by June 30, 2020. Miller estimates that to be about $10.7 million.