Off the Table - School District Consolidation - For Now
Consolidation is off legislative calendar for the next session
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State Rep. Mike Pitts said Thursday he will not re-introduce a bill this coming January that passed the State House earlier this year - a bill that mandates the consolidation of School Districts 56 and 55 within a year of the bill becoming a state law.
Pitts said when the bill passed, he received so many hateful comments from people in Clinton and Laurens that it took a toll on his family. He said he is not pressing ahead on districts consolidation because other members of the Laurens County Delegation are not ready to wholeheartedly support the idea.
It is still a good idea, Pitts said.
A combined school district could have the same successful outcome as having a combined Chamber of Commerce and a combined hospital, he said.
However, he added, “I can’t see it unless this community tells me this is what we need.”
State Sen. Danny Verdin and State Rep. Mark Willis said the issue needs more study. The fourth member of the Laurens County Delegation, Mike Anthony, is retiring and elections to name his replacement are being conducted this month.
Laurens County Council member and District 56 Assistant Superintendent Dr. David Pitts asked Rep. Pitts what his intentions are in January, 2019. Rep. Pitts asked community leaders to come to The Ridge June 7 for a growth and planning discussion.
David Pitts called on everyone at the meeting to be ambassadors for the positive aspects of living in Laurens County, and said the greatest challenge right now to public school districts is the growth of charter schools. “It is sweeping America,” he said.
District 56 Superintendent Dr. David O’Shields and District 55 Superintendent Dr. Stephen Peters said while the districts are not consolidated, there are many collaborative programs. Those are likely to grow, O’Shields said, since the Cabinets of both districts are slated to meet together in the 2018-19 academic year.
“Meetings like this facilitate a new pathway,” Peters said. “When it comes down to the fabric of our community, we want the same things.”
O’Shields said there are seven Laurens District High School and three Clinton High School graduates going to work at ZF Transmissions in the latest class of entry-level employees to join the massive Gray Court industry, in a 56, 55, Piedmont Tech and ZF partnership. “I see us already consolidated,” O’Shields said, “because of what we do with our children.”
“ZF wants to expand right now,” Rep. Pitts said. “They just can’t find the labor.”
Pitts called community leaders together because he is concerned about growth spilling from Simpsonville into Fountain Inn. “My researchers tell me, soon, Gray Court will be larger than Clinton, maybe larger than Laurens,” he said.
How Laurens County manages that growth - and the inevitable growth on the Laurens County side of Lake Greenwood after a new water treatment plant is built - will determine the county’s future, Pitts said.
On a “global scale,” Pitts said, Atlanta is growing toward Greenville along I-85 and Charlotte is growing toward Spartanburg along I-85. When the Greenville-Spartanburg I-85 Corridor is full, the growth will overwhelm the I-385 Corridor going south and east - and Laurens County is the next target.
“I don’t want us to become the next Woodruff Road,” Pitts said. “We need to do planning, we don’t need to just sit on this information. If we need another meeting, I will be the facilitator.”