Sumter School District trustee Sherril Ray explains more about her vote to reopen Mayewood Middle

BY BRUCE MILLS
bruce@theitem.com
Posted 3/15/19

On Monday night and in an email last week to The Sumter Item, Sumter School District Board of Trustees Area 2 Representative Sherril Ray explained further her rationale for voting to reopen Mayewood Middle School - something that was unclear …

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Sumter School District trustee Sherril Ray explains more about her vote to reopen Mayewood Middle

Posted

On Monday night and in an email last week to The Sumter Item, Sumter School District Board of Trustees Area 2 Representative Sherril Ray explained further her rationale for voting to reopen Mayewood Middle School - something that she had yet to clarify.

The full board voted 6-3 last month to reopen the middle school next year, after it voted 11 months ago  - albeit one consisting of five different trustees before the November midterm that brought on Ray and four others.

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.

Ray said Monday that she didn't approve of the way the consolidation process was handled by the district, saying it was done in "great haste."

"Many times, when you are closing schools you give people time to adjust to that," Ray said. "It's a process that can take up to a year before you do it."

She said that led to safety and overcrowding transition problems at R.E. Davis this year.

Before the board's vote to reopen Mayewood last month, Interim Superintendent Debbie Hamm said she would have liked to hear dialogue from the board on ways to make the K-8 school work, as opposed to sending students back to Mayewood.

Community members including the mayor, county council chairman, Greater Sumter Chamber of Commerce president and business leaders on the school board's advisory Finance Committee all voiced opposition to the reopening.

The reopening of the middle school will involve one-time costs for the first year and recurring operational costs each year after that, and the board is in the midst of an appeal process to the state Board of Education on the matter. Following the vote last month, state Superintendent Molly Spearman said the board "undermined" a district financial recovery plan with the vote to reopen the middle school.

A new state law requires the district to have one month's expenditures in its general fund balance by next year - a measure that will certainly take personnel budget cuts with a potential reopening, given financial difficulties in recent years, according to board Chairman the Rev. Ralph Canty.

A review in mid-February by The Sumter Item of R.E. Davis' official teacher-to-student ratios for the middle school showed that 25 of the 34 main content classes (English, math, science and social studies) spread among those three grades contain less than 20 students each. Four classes have 25 students, and five have 20 to 23 students.

As another reason to send students back to Mayewood, Ray also pointed out in an email last week that Mayewood has never officially closed because the district's alternative school, Brewington Academy, still operates on a portion of the campus. After the board voted to close Mayewood last year, it intended to move Brewington but has had issues finding another suitable facility for the program.

Matthew "Mac" McLeod also addressed in open session Monday the fact that Brewington is still open.

Monday's discussion primarily focused on a potential reopening of Wedgefield's F.J. DeLaine Elementary School, which also closed at the end of last school year. The board ultimately took no action on reopening F.J. DeLaine.

That school's students this year attend Cherryvale Elementary School, which is three miles away.

Two trustees, Frank Baker and the Rev. Daryl McGhaney, who were outspoken proponents of reopening Mayewood, didn't comment during the sometimes-spirited, 30-minute discussion focused mostly on F.J. DeLaine.

Like Ray, Baker is also a newly elected board member, but he previously served as the district's superintendent for four years through July 2017. He and the board mutually agreed at that time he would retire after it was discovered the district overspent its budget by $6.2 million in fiscal year 2016, the fallout of which led to the vote to close Mayewood and F.J. DeLaine to save money.

Shawn Ragin, another newly elected trustee from November, also didn't speak in Monday's discussion.