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School board dislikes proposal

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Members say funding shift for future economic development would have negative impact on revenue stream

By Reece Murphy

 Lancaster County school board members, expressed nearly unanimous displeasure for a County Council proposal that would reduce potential school district revenue from “Project Vino” in favor of funding future economic development projects.

The reaction came during the board’s monthly meeting Tuesday evening, Oct. 15, where district officials touted increased student participation in AP courses and issued a report on the district’s move toward Common Core Standards.

The mysterious Lancaster County economic development project known only by the code name, “Project Vino,” is expected to bring an estimated $218 million in investment to Lancaster County and 500 jobs.

County Council is set to approve third reading of ordinances by the end of the month authorizing $7.7 million in special source revenue bonds for infrastructure on the project and an unspecified fee-in-lieu-of-taxes deal for the company.

The idea floated by County Council at Tuesday’s school board meeting, Lancaster County School District Superintendent Dr. Gene Moore said, was to withhold 7 percent of future “Project Vino” fee revenue for the school district to support an economic development fund.

“Basically, what they’re asking is for us to give them some feedback,” Moore told school board members.

In explaining the impact of the proposal, school district finance director, Tony Walker, said while he couldn’t speculate on the amount of school district revenue from “Project Vino,” the school district projected $1.8 million in revenue this year from other fee agreements.

Time frames for the county’s fee-in-lieu deals are negotiated on a case-by-case basis, though it is not uncommon for the agreements to last for decades.

The loss of revenue over time could be substantial, Walker said.

“The tax money we would normally get from such a fee-in-lieu, would be taken out with 7 percent,” Walker said, “and it’s my understanding that the 7 percent would be a permanent 7 percent over the life of the agreement.”

Walker and Moore said the fund supported by the 7 percent would be used for anything Lancaster County Economic Development Corporation (LCEDC) or County Council deemed necessary for future economic development, including infrastructure.

“It would not go into infrastructure for schools,” Moore said. “It would not go into building classrooms.”

“Not that we have any say in the decision,” Moore said. “It is a County Council decision, they just wanted our thoughts on it.”

Of the board’s seven members, District 6 trustee Maggie Gamble was the only one to support the proposal.

Gamble said while she’d rather the 7 percent come out of the county’s share of revenue, she felt economic development was important for students’ futures.

“Economic development in this county is vital. We’ve got kids graduating from college and can’t find a job,” Gamble said. “I’m all in favor of working with County Council with whatever needs to be done. But that’s my own personal opinion.”

The general consensus among the remaining trustees was that while they supported economic development, the loss of revenue from such a proposal would be detrimental to county schools.

“We wouldn’t get anything out of it?” District 7 trustee Mary Etta Taylor asked? “Then tell them we’d like to just take our tax revenue.”

District 1 trustee Don McCorkle questioned the wisdom of such fee-in-lieu-of-tax deals in general, saying there was no guarantee the bulk of the jobs promised by companies given such deals would, indeed, be filled by Lancaster County residents.

District 3 trustee Bill Sumner said with state funding for school districts dwindling, now was not the time to accept a decrease in funding from the district’s own county.

“I served on that (LEDEC) committee. I support economic development,” Sumner said. “I just don’t think (the proposal) is in the best interest of our teachers, students, faculty and district, as a whole.”

“One hundred percent correct,” School board chairman Bobby Parker said turning to Moore. “I think you’ve got our opinion on it.”

In closing, Moore agreed with trustees’ sentiments that while economic development was important, the school district’s duty was to county students.

Walker closed out the discussion.

“I’d just like to point out the fee-in-lieu is in itself a form of economic development,” Walker said.

Advanced             Placement

During an update about student performance, Lancaster County School District Director of Planning and Accountability Lydia Quinn told board members the number of high school students taking Advanced Placement classes increased dramatically during the 2012-13 school year.

Advanced Placement, or AP, classes are part of a national program by the College Board that offers high school students college-level classes, often for college credit.

“Overall there were 158 more AP exams taken with a 5 percent increase in the number of students getting credit,” Quinn said. “That’s impressive.”

According to summaries provided by Quinn, 615 Lancaster County high school students took AP courses and exams last year, compared to 457 in 2011-12, with 223, or 36 percent, earning college credit.

The largest increases occurred in AP Calculus with 106 students taking the courses/exams and 73, or 69 percent, earning credit. The number represents an increase of 29 students over 2011-12 with a 10 percent increase in the number of students earning credit.

Participation in AP English came next, up by 25 students last year to 148, with 45 percent earning credit. Of the 62 students who took AP U.S. History, 42 percent, earned college credit.

Participation in five of the seven other AP classes offered by districts schools was also up, most notably in psychology, with an increase in participation of 52 percent.

Participation in “human geography” remained the same with 23 students while participation in AP Chemistry fell slightly from 44 to 39 students.

Overall participation in AP courses was the highest since 2004.

The district’s next highest AP participation rate occurred during the 2008-09 school year, when 163 students participated, a fact Moore pointed out was the result of a grant to encourage student participation.

That there was no such grant in place last year, Moore said, showed teachers, principals and guidance counselors are doing a good job encouraging students to take the rigorous classes.

“I’ve said it before and studies have shown, that even if they don’t earn credit, a student is better off in an AP class,” Moore said. “The classes are more rigorous and the students will be better prepared for college just by being in there.”

Common Core Standards

The school district’s directors of secondary and elementary education updated school board members on progress toward implementation of Common Core Standards (CCS).

CCS is a state-led initiative sponsored by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, designed to align state English language arts (ELA) and Math curricula across the country.

The standards-based reform is intended to offer teachers, parents and students  clear, understandable and consistent curricula and expectations geared toward preparing students for college and careers.

The Lancaster County School District, like other South Carolina schools, has been working toward full implementation of the standards since the 2011-12 school year.

Dr. Jonathan Phipps, district director of secondary education, said the district’s progress has been hectic, but is going well as schools begin adopting CCS this year.

“This is where the rubber meets the road this year; we have to implement Common Core Standards,” Phipps said. “This is what’s called the ‘bridge year’ because we still have to continue with state standards.”

According to Phipps and Lancaster County School District Director of Elementary Education Dr. Linda Blackwell, district officials, principals, teachers, instructional facilitators and others have begun implementing revised ELA and Math curriculum maps and pacing guides.

Representatives from county schools are participating in monthly training sessions on the standards with core subject area teachers also participating in activities geared toward facilitating the shift from state standards to CCS.

Blackwell said as educators continue implementation of CCS in their classrooms, the district is preparing to begin using the CCS-aligned Smarter Balance test next year.

She said she’s asked elementary school principals to pilot one grade level on the Smarter Balance test in at least one subject to give CCS and the test a “trial run.”

“It (CCS) is really good, rich instruction, but it really is different than what we had to do before,” Blackwell said.

Phipps said he believed the district is doing a good job of implementing CCS and was well ahead of many school districts.

“I think if you look at the plan and where we started, we’re doing extremely well,” Phipps said. “Really and truly, when I go to Columbia and see other schools and where they are, I put us right up there (at the lead).”

Other actions

u School board members unanimously approved a timeline for the process to name Indian Land’s new elementary school on Harrisburg Road, as well as school colors and mascot.

In keeping with the timeline, Moore asked McCorkle to set up a naming committee by Oct. 25 to consider the matter with input from the board and Indian Land Elementary administrators.

The committee is asked to present recommendations for possible names, colors and mascot to board members at the board’s Nov. 19 meeting. The board will approve a choice during the Dec. 10 meeting.

u School board members approved first reading of a policy amendment that would allow principals, if they deemed it necessary, to require parents to sign-in for assembly and other programs at county schools.

u School board members approve first reading of the school district’s new concussions and student athletes policy.

 

Contact reporter Reece Murphy at (803) 283-1151