School Districts Consolidation Is a Discussion Point
It was billed as a debate. One of the participants said it was a forum. Whatever it was called, about 50 people attended an event at Laurens District 55 High School last week to hear two people with opposite views of the proposed consolidation of School District 55 (Laurens) and School District 56 (Clinton).
Laurens County Republican Party Chairman Keith Tripp had proposed three such events after a school consolidation bill passed the SC House in the waning days of the last legislative session. The bill died in the Senate after a public outcry.
S.C. Rep. Mike Pitts, who quietly introduced the bill, spoke in favor.
The two men traded time in the 90-minute event with an opening remarks followed by six 12-minute sections — three by each man. Time was called only once.
“We need to look at strategic planning across the board,” Pitts said. “We need Clinton and Laurens working together. We need the school districts with one plan.”
“The school districts aren’t broken,” Tripp said. “They cooperate (with each other) when it’s in their mutual benefit. Isn’t that how it should be?”
Pitts said the county would best be served with three high schools — one in the Gray Court-Hickory Tavern area, one in Laurens and one in Clinton — each with between 600 and 900 students.
“The three high school would be community based,” he said. “Wouldn’t that make good common sense?”
But Pitts said following the outcry in May when the bill almost passed the SC General Assembly, he will not re-introduce a consolidation bill when lawmakers reconvene this fall.
“Consolidation will not come back up by me,” he said. “I will not file a bill. You’ll have to convince your legislators.”
Pitts said the school boards of the current districts “will be territorial.”
Tripp said the current number of school board members — seven in each of the two school boards — would be cut in half by the 7-member board that would govern the consolidated district.
“Anyway you slice this, your current vote would be diminished under consolidation,” Tripp said. “It would be dramatically diminished for people in District 56.”
Pitts criticized the locations of both the 10-year-old Clinton High School and the newest elementary school in District 55 (in Waterloo).
He said Clinton High School should have been built near Sterilite to take advantage of projected growth on Lake Greenwood. “District 56 picked the location for the new Clinton High School because it was the cheapest land,” Pitts said.
“District 55 build a school in Waterloo. It’s a nice building, but a great part of it is empty at this time,” he said. Pitts said the location for the school was chosen for political reasons, but he did not specify what they were.
Tripp said the reason often given for consolidating schools is to save money, “whether the people want it or it.”
He said, “if we have knowledge of past government failures, wouldn’t we be wise to be way of these (money saving) claims?”
Pitts said a consolidated school district would need only one superintendent, one HR manager, one person to direct transportation. With the savings, “how many teachers could you put in classes to reduce class size?” he asked.
“Would schools be closed? Not under the plan I presented,” Pitts said.
Tripp said the City of Clinton would not be represented on a transition committee that would guide the consolidation process. Pitts’ bill calls for representatives from District 55, District 56, Laurens City Council, Laurens County Council and the Laurens County legislative delegation.
“When did the City of Clinton secede from Laurens County?” Tripp asked. “There’s not one word about representation from Clinton City Council. That’s exactly how not to bring people together.”
Tripp said a (law) is “not to be judged on its intent. It’s to be judged on what it does.”
“I don’t want Clinton paying for Laurens school,” Pitts said. “And I want Laurens to have what they need.
“But Laurens and Clinton are losing population at a rapid rate,” he said. “Do the (two school) districts plan as one county with a shrinking population? No.
“Community-based schools are the best,” Pitts said. “They have the most parental support and the most community support.”