The McDuffie County School Board held two hearings last week concerning the proposed consolidation of schools in McDuffie County. Considering education's current financial crisis, the excess of classrooms, and our declining local enrollment, one would be hard pressed to make an argument against consolidation. The board's proposal for closing the Main Street facility makes little sense, however.
The Superintendent has stated that the main reason for closing the Main Street school is because it will save the system about $183,000 more than closing the Harrison Road facility. A careful look at the figures seems to discredit those savings. The biggest difference in the operating budgets of the two facilities seems to lie in personnel expenses. The same number of teachers and secretaries will be needed no matter which building is used next year. The number of students served will not change. The Superintendent even admitted as much during the evening hearing. The only difference will be the cost to heat and cool the buildings, which is about $37,000 more for the Main Street facility.
The Superintendent went on to say the full utility savings of $37,000 would not be realized by closing the Main Street facility.
According to LeBrun, "We will continue to maintain the Main Street facility. It will be used to house technical services as well as some other administrative offices and possibly alternative education."
LeBrun even stated, "The difference in savings between closing one school over the other is negligible."
My question is this. If our own Superintendent states that closing the Main Street school will lead to "negligible" savings as compared to closing the Harrison Road school, why not close the Harrison Road facility?
Closing the current middle school facility will take jobs and traffic away from downtown at a time when our government and community is actively trying to revitalize that area. No other business or organization can or will replace those jobs and traffic in the downtown area. We already have a closed furniture store, hardware store, car dealership, movie store, restaurant, and clothing store on Washington Road. These establishments will soon be joined by a shuttered courthouse. We do not need to contribute to the decline of the most visible part of our town by closing the biggest landmark we have.
The closing of the Main Street facility will also increase traffic in an already congested area. Anyone who has had to navigate Harrison road and Whiteoak Road during the morning and afternoon is aware of how long it takes to negotiate the school traffic. The board's current plan would only add to the amount of traffic in that area by increasing the number of students at all three schools.
It has been said that those who oppose closing the Main Street school do so for "emotional reasons." I hold no greater emotional attachment to one school over the other.
I attended both schools and have fond memories of my times there. I simply take my stance based on what is best for the community.
I hope that the Superintendent and BOE will listen to those who spoke at the hearings as well as others in the community and do the same.