One of three proposals was approved in the hunt for racial balance in McDuffie County Schools after the March 11 board of education meeting. But it wasn't the one that some school officials expected.
The McDuffie County Board of Education recently failed to take action on two measures that were recommended by school officials to adjust the growing racial imbalance between Thomson Elementary and Maxwell Elementary.
A proposal allowing out-of-county residents to attend school in McDuffie County for tuition died on the floor for lack of a second. Adjusting the attendance zones between the two schools did not receive a motion. Neither option was brought to a vote.
"I was surprised. I was very disappointed," said Superintendent of Schools Ed Grisham. "This is something that we've had dozens of people to beg for for more than two years now.
"We had two different options, and of course both of them were turned down, basically. So we'll proceed as we have been, and that's the rule of the board. That's all you can say."
Last year, school officials recommended that the board approve a non-resident tuition policy that would allow out-of-county students to be placed in the district in which they were needed to adjust the imbalance. Like this year, the proposal received a motion, but died for lack of a second.
The board did approve a policy adjustment that states "all students must have" proof of residency within the county and their correct district. The policy originally included only students new to McDuffie County.
Several board members said they thought the adjustment to this policy would help correct the racial imbalance between the schools.
"I think it is the board's opinion following the hearings and some feedback that we have gotten since the hearings that if we strictly enforce that policy on the documentation and the proof of residency that the balance between the two schools would probably correct itself some," said BOE Chair Tommy Phelps.
"It was the board's opinion -- and naturally we operate as a board -- that we needed to try to make sure people were in the right zone before we did anything else," Mr. Phelps said.
Dr. Grisham, while approving of the board's actions on the proof of residency issue, warned that the move by itself won't be enough.
"I don't think it's going to solve all the problems that maybe we think it will because people have a number of ways to address the residency issue if they so choose," Dr. Grisham said.
He also added that the change in residency requirements alone will have little effect on the racial balance between the schools.
"If anything it may make it a little more extreme than it is now," Dr. Grisham said.
Parents who have voiced concerns over the growing racial disparity between Maxwell and Thomson Elementary were also disappointed.
"I'm concerned that the board of education doesn't see the same problem that many parents that are actively involved in the school on a day to day basis at both schools have recognized," said Scott Swann, a parent of two students at Thomson Elementary. "We can't stick our head in the sand and think that the problem is going to go away when everybody knows that demographics change."
BOE Vice Chair Georgia Hobbs agreed that had the board adjusted the attendance zones, moving district lines would become a repeated exercise. She added that if the proof of residency requirement was insufficient, then restructuring the grades at both schools was the next logical step.
"Otherwise, it just keeps coming up every two years. I don't want to see my town divided racially," she said. "How much sense does it make to have to keep moving the lines every two years when both schools are reporting that there are children out of zone, and nothing is ever done about it."
Currently, both schools house pre-kindergarten through third grade, necessitating two separate attendance zones in the north end of the county. Restructuring the grades would make one school pre-k through first grade and the other second and third grade, eliminating the need for attendance zones.
Several board members, including Mr. Phelps, said restructuring the grades was not a good idea for the coming year because of the current reduction in school funds as well as the proximity to the restructuring that took place in 1997.
That restructuring of the grades at Maxwell and Thomson Elementary required shifting staff at both schools, something that the board is hesitant to repeat so soon.