I am writing to stand up for our small, community schools in the northern part of Pickens County. Only someone who has attended one of these schools or had children attending them can understand why they are so special.
My children are third generation students at A.R. Lewis Elementary School. This school has been labeled by some members of our school board as being “inefficient.” I tend to disagree with that statement. This school has efficiently served its community since 1959. It has not only been very effective in teaching our children reading, writing, and arithmetic, but friendship, manners, love for others, and life in general. These students go to middle school well-prepared to face life. They have been taught love and respect; therefore, they know how to show love and respect to others.
Also, I was told that our school is a “want and not a need.” However, I have looked at their proposed 5-year budget and it is filled with “wants.” How could the following be needs? Included in the new budget are a rubber running track, Astro turf for athletic fields, restrooms at athletic facilities which already have restrooms, new additions onto a brand new high school, a $1.2 million teacher training facility (there are adequate facilities for this already), fancy LED signs, and exuberant amounts of money for feasibility studies for things that never happen. Are these things worth sacrificing our schools for?
Our school originally had one hallway with a cafeteria at one end. As the population of the school grew, portables were brought in to accommodate the expanded enrollment at the school. At that time, the school went up through the sixth grade. In 1991, the school board voted to build on to the school and do away with the portables. Our tax dollars paid for the addition of a second hallway, a new library, and new offices. It was a very nice addition and one that the community could be proud of.
In 1994, sixth graders were moved to the middle school, decreasing the population of the school. In 2009, a new gym, additional classrooms, and additional restrooms were added to the school. This space was added with future growth in mind, so that they would not have to bring in portables again. Now, they are saying that we need to close the school because we don’t have enough space for the amount of children there. Our tax dollars went towards financing these additions, and now they want to put them to waste by closing the school? I am sure that Ambler and Holly Springs went through a similar progression. If they close all three schools, that will be triple the waste.
Since then, the board decided to build four new high schools with all new athletic facilities, a new career center, and a new elementary school in Liberty. Many voters expressed concern about the cost of those facilities, but they were built anyway.
This not only affects the three country schools, it affects every elementary school that feeds into Pickens High School. Pickens Elementary and Hagood Elementary will lose their current identity and become overcrowded, therefore creating the need for increased maintenance budget and costing the school district more money in the big picture.
Speaking of ignoring the big picture, the school board is using outdated census data to project that the number of school children in our communities will decrease in the next few years. This is a very short-sighted projection. Greenville-Spartanburg is one of the highest incorporated and fastest growing areas in the country.
As people get jobs and move into the area, the greater Greenville area has become overcrowded. Many people have now started moving into the outlying areas, which explains the growth in the southern part of our county (especially Easley). When those areas become saturated, it only makes sense that people would start moving into the Pickens area. If we only have two very overcrowded elementary schools, where are those children going to go? At that point, we are going to need all five of those schools.
It is my sincere hope that the school board will listen to reason and not make the mistake of closing these schools. It affects all of us, but it will devastate the ages-old bond that exists in these three mountain communities. Please contact your school board members and politicians, and tell them not to go through with this plan.