School board also approves offices for deputies at all elementary campuses
By Bettina Huseby
The Pickens County Board of Education met on Valentine’s Day. It was decided that March 25 is no longer a school holiday. Students will attend classes as usual to make up for a previous snow day.
According to the discussion, historical Tate Elementary is in danger of losing state funding because its population has dropped to around 260 students. “We want to keep Tate going strong. It’s one of those things we would love to do,” said Superintendent Dr. Ben Desper.
To raise the low numbers, Desper asked for tentative board approval to redistrict schools so that overcrowded Harmony can feed 125 students to Tate. Under the proposal, Harmony students who live in the area of Fairview Road, Lower Dowda Mill Road, Ray Mountain Road, Worley Crossroads, and Cagle Mill South Road would be re-assigned to Tate Elementary.
In a later interview, School Board Chair Wendy Lowe said it was imperative that they re-district to raise Tate’s numbers as it would be unfeasible to operate a school not eligible for state funding.
The proposed changes will be on the table for 30 days so that parents may become familiar with the idea and ask questions. Maps will be available both online and at the schools. Letters have been sent home only to parents of students who would be affected by redistricting. If your student doesn’t bring home a letter, your area will not be affected. Pickens High School is not affected by redistricting plans.
Lowe said they will take comments for the next 30 days, but she saw no reason why the policy won’t be adopted at the next meeting.
While they were working on the redistricting plans, it made sense to act on a long-discussed idea of re-aligning middle school districts so they are linked to elementary schools, Lowe said.
The proposed plan will align middle schools so that each one is “fed” by two elementary schools.
With this plan, all Hill City and Jasper Elementary students will attend Jasper Middle School. All Tate and Harmony students will attend Pickens Middle School.
Desper explained at the meeting, “The school board hopes to establish a true feeder pattern to send elementary age students evenly to the middle schools. Redistricting saves money, and people’s jobs. If there is a better suggestion out there, we are certainly open to it. But, we have to start somewhere.”
This middle school division based on elementary school attendance zones simplifies the whole process for students, parents and school planners, Lowe said.
“It makes logical sense,” she said.
Under the proposed policy, students who are currently attending a certain school may finish there regardless of the district lines.
Lowe said the school system will also be more attentive next year to “school choice” requests where people can apply for their student to attend a school they are not districted for.
“It is important that parents who want their child to attend a different school do apply,” she said – and not assume they can just show up and tell someone. Lowe expected more details on applying for “school choice” to be available after the policy is officially adopted.
In other business:
• Approval was given for immediate presence of the Pickens County Sheriff’s Office in all four elementary schools. How this will work: each school will provide an office space for Uniform Patrol Deputies to use in completing paperwork. Each will have a phone line, computer, and office furniture provided by Sheriff Donnie Craig.
“This will save the county money on having to rent substation offices out of strip malls, because schools are public buildings,” said Sgt. Chris Leake. These substations will not be “precincts” for booking suspects or receiving visitors. They will just be private offices for the deputies to drop in and use.
• The school bus fleet will be updated so that by the end of fiscal year 2013, all buses will be within state regulations which mandate they may not be over ten years old. That extra penny we pay in taxes, along with SPLOST funding and bond sales will pay for seven regular buses and one special bus, which is more expensive because it has a wheelchair lift.
The state will provide two buses and SPLOST will cover the other six. In addition, the transportation department has trained 10 new substitute drivers to increase their sub pool. Acquisition of substitute drivers will be an ongoing program.
• Pickens High School has approval to begin plans for a facility with changing rooms for visiting ball teams. There are currently no public restrooms for the visitors’ side of the field, so those will be included. SPLOST and private donations will provide funding. Football, soccer, and track teams will all have use of this facility.