Let me be as clear as possible: the proposed consolidation of school districts in Laurens County would be the worst possible thing that could happen to students and parents in District 56.
We would lose all local control of our schools. Do not believe it for one second if anyone tries to tell you differently. Look at the map. Clinton gets two seats on the 7-member board of trustees, Laurens gets four. One member is elected at large. Clinton will have NO SAY in the operation of our schools.
Do not believe it for one second if anyone tries to tell you the consolidation will save money. IT WILL NOT. The combined district will start saving money the same day the United States receives a check from Mexico for the wall.
The proposed law says the administrative costs of the new district must be less than the combined administrative costs of the two districts. Easy to say, easy to get around.
The law also creates a new assistant superintendent to be in charge of programs and policy. I’m guessing the person in this new position isn’t going to work for free.
The new superintendent of the combined district will make much more money than either current superintendent.
So, how are we saving money?
The law, as proposed by Rep. Mike Pitts (more on him later) calls for the budget of the consolidated schools to be approved by Laurens County Council.
Holy crap on a cracker. Give me seven guys from down at Joe’s Pool Hall on a Saturday night. I’d take their school budget over one created by our friends on LCC.
Pitts told WLBG’s Randy Stevens that any fund balance held by either of the districts being combined would be held by those districts. In other words, District 56’s surplus funds, which are healthy, would be kept by District 56 (which would not longer exist) in a separate account and be used only for D56 schools.
The law he proposed says differently. “On July 1, 2021, the assets and liabilities of the present School Districts 55 and 56 must be transferred to the Laurens County Consolidated School District.”
I can see it now. The Laurens-heavy board tells Laurens County Council they’re going to need an additional 3 mills next year to balance the budget. My buddy Joe Wood will tell the board they need to use the millions that District 56 has first and then we’ll talk about a dadgum tax increase.
If the districts are combined, Joanna-Woodson will be closed. M.S. Bailey Child Development Center will be closed. That’s not a part of the proposed law, but you can count on it. The new district will shutter the old Bell Street High School building and it will fall into disrepair just as the Martha Dendy building did.
OK, I lied about talking about Mike Pitts. I’ve run out of space. We’ll get back to him in a week or two.
I’ll leave you with this. Don’t think this issue is dead or even dying. The bills to consolidate the districts and to give Laurens County Council full financial authority over the schools will be reintroduced in January.
Rep. Pitts said he wants to get a group together to study consolidation. But he also said during the radio interview he knows what the conclusion of that study will be. Wow.
(Larry Franklin is retired and lives in Clinton.)