SUMTER COUNTY, SC (WIS) - The Sumter School District's plan to consolidate two schools at the end of this school year will save the district nearly $750,000 annually, according to interim superintendent Debbie Hamm.
The decision to close Mayewood Middle School and F.J. Delaine Elementary School came following a board of trustees meeting on Tuesday. The move means Mayewood Middle School students will consolidate with R.E. Davis Elementary and Delaine Elementary students will attend Cherryvale Elementary.
An amendment made right before Tuesday night's vote caused confusion for some in the crowd. Hamm said the move does not change the plan to close the two schools. Instead, was meant to keep an open conversation moving forward with additional decisions the district may make moving forward.
"This is the first phase of an ongoing effort to make sure we have our kids in the schools they need and access to the programming they deserve," Hamm said.
Chris Hardy, the president of the Greater Sumter Chamber of Commerce, said he agrees with the decision to consolidate the schools and believes it will serve as a catalyst for an improved workforce in Sumter County moving forward.
"It's going to be a good opportunity to recruit new teachers and families to our communities to live, work and play," he said. "But it's also going to provide a better pipeline for workforce development."
Opponents of the board's decision said rural schools are often the first on the chopping block with conversations of consolidation begin.
"It seems there has been a history of the topic of closing the schools when it comes up, it's like here we go again we're talking about primarily the rural schools," resident Ernest Frierson, a resident, said. "It seems like the schools in northeast Sumter County are always the ones targeted first.
Frierson also said the infrastructure of the schools that will be gaining additional students can't support the sudden influx.
"They're saying it would be cost-effective, but the problem is when renovations were done at R.E. Davis Elementary, I don't think it can accommodate middle school students," he said.
Hamm said R.E. Davis Elementary will become a K-8 school, while both it and Cherryvale Elementary will both become MAGNET schools by the 2019-20 school year.
"We'll need a year to get the curriculum and instruction in place, but we anticipate them both becoming MAGNET schools after next school year," she said. "Anything we can do to draw people to some of these more rural schools and areas is obviously something we want to do."
In all, Hamm estimates both schools being consolidated have less than 150 students each.
"Enrollment at these schools is going to continue to decline based on data we have," Hardy said. "This is not a financial issue, but it could be a continued financial issue for the district by providing so many resources into a facility that is not getting a return on the investment with the students actually learning in that facility."
Hamm said staff at both F.J. Delaine and Mayewood Middle School will likely follow students to their new buildings.
She also said infrastructure at each school has studied extensively with input from principals before moving forward, dispelling any questions of whether the two buildings can handle the sudden surge in students.