Some Jasper school board members push to overturn consolidation

rheaton@beaufortgazette.comJune 15, 2012 

Some Jasper County school board members hope this week's vote to consolidate middle and high schools will be overturned.

They are circulating a letter asking residents to call other board members and the district superintendent to persuade them to revisit the issue.

The School District Board of Trustees voted Monday to combine Hardeeville and Ridgeland middle schools and Hardeeville and Ridgeland high schools before school starts Aug. 20.

The measure, which comes about five years after the schools were split, passed on a 5-3-1 vote. Board members Randy Horton, Pamela Williams and Barbara Clark voted no. Michael Hubbard abstained.

Horton said a super majority of the board -- six members -- could vote to overturn the decision that would move middle-schoolers to the Hardeeville campus and high-schoolers to the Ridgeland campus.

Superintendent Vashti Washington has said combining the schools will save money and allow for more high-level courses. Washington has also said consolidation was needed because Ridgeland Middle School is too crowded.

In the letter, Horton proposes moving Ridgeland Middle into the old Jasper County High School on Grays Highway in Ridgeland. Middle-schoolers would then have their own space, but students across the district wouldn't be disrupted, Horton said.

Horton also said it's vital to focus on the basics first because some students are struggling to read and write, so adding high-level courses like calculus doesn't make sense.

The five board members who voted for the plan don't realize what they did, he said. Information about costs, a formal timeline and possible bus routes was not presented to the board before its vote.

"I don't think they realize the impact this will have," Horton said. "I don't think they realize how mad people are."

Clark and Williams say they support Horton's idea and want the vote overturned.

"I'm hoping that we can revisit it," Clark said. "Like I said in the beginning, I don't feel like the parents and community were treated fairly and given enough information and time to digest this thing."

A formal proposal on consolidation was presented only a week before the board voted, and community meetings were held the weekend before the vote. Washington has said the community had enough notice because focus groups to discuss the issue were held last winter.

The district disputed some of the claims in Horton's letter in a news release Friday. It said bus rides for students would not be longer than 78 minutes; Horton wrote that students could be on the bus for two hours.

The release also said the average student-teacher ratio would be 22 to 1. Horton wrote that Washington had said 35 or more students would be in a class.

Horton said he's hoping to get as many people as he can to call board members to ask for the vote to be overturned. On Friday, he and Williams gave the letter to drivers at stoplights in downtown Ridgeland. He also spoke Thursday night to about 100 people at a Jasper County Republican group.

The next board meeting is scheduled for June 25, and Horton hopes the issue will be taken up then or sooner.

Attempts to reach board members Kathleen Snooks, Berty Riley, Priscilla Fraser, Cathry Gardner, Alina Hamilton-Clark and Hubbard were unsuccessful.

Related content

  1. Jasper County school board member ejected from meeting; June 11, 2012
  2. School consolidation approved for Hardeeville, Ridgeland; June 11, 2012
  3. Dispute over Jasper County school consolidation plan reignites; June 6, 2012
  4. Jasper County School District considers school consolidation plans; May 30, 2012

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