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Lancaster County School officials urged audience members at this month’s school board meeting to ask their state representatives for help with two important issues facing the district.
The appeal came Tuesday, Feb. 19, during a meeting with a packed house of family members gathered to celebrate recognition of this year’s Junior Scholars with Trustees Awards.
At the center of the appeal was concern over the possibility that state legislators may not fully fund school districts’ base student funding this year and a state law that prevents school districts from setting their own calendar year.
In an unusual move, Superintendent Dr. Gene Moore and school board Chairman Bobby Parker agreed to set the meeting’s agenda to include a legislative update as the first item after the executive session, an item usually saved until the end.
“We’d been talking about it (the concerns) and I told Gene, ‘Let’s just move it to the top. There’s going to be plenty of people there,’” Parker said. “So that’s why we had the discussion right up front.”
Moore said the district’s inability to set its own schedule is the result of a state law passed several years ago that prevents school district’s from starting the school year any earlier than the third Monday of August.
The problem, he said, is that the law is too rigid and forces districts to start winter break too close to Christmas .
That, in turn postpones exams, and the end of the semester, until January.
On the 2013 school year calendar, for example, winter holidays don’t start until Dec. 23. Students return to school Jan. 6 for three days with first semester exams held Jan. 9 and 10.
“I would ask that if you speak with your legislature, you share with them that concern about the law, and ask them to consider legislation to return control of school start dates to the local school districts,” Moore said speaking to the audience.
“Those of you who have children like I do, you’ll understand, we couldn’t even enjoy Christmas,” Parker said, taking up the cause. “It would make a world of difference if we could back the school start date up even one week to the second week in August.”
Moore said the most important item under discussion right now in the General Assembly as it relates to school is funding for the 2013-14 school year.
The concern, Moore said, is that the Legislature will once again not fully fund the district’s “base student costs,” the per-student funding on which the district bases its own budget.
Last year, the Legislature agreed to fund districts at a base student cost of $2,012. That amount was slightly more than anticipated, but far less than the $2,700 per student amount it would be if fully funded.
“That means we’ve got to cut somewhere, because that amounts to about $6 million a year,” Parker said after the meeting. “If they would fully fund the base student cost, we could hire more teachers and cut down on some of these classrooms sizes.”
During this month’s Trustees Awards, school board members honored Buford High School junior Benjamin Caskey.
Caskey has been selected to serve as a National Youth Delegate at the 2013 Washington Youth Summit on the Environment.
As a delegate, Caskey will spend a week at George Mason University near Washington, D.C., to get a “behind-the-scenes insight into the world of environmental science. Caskey will participate in experiments and attend guest lectures, as well as other environment-focused activities.
“This is a great opportunity for him,” said BHS agriculture teacher Troy Helms. “Those of you who known Benjamin know he has a great interest in the environmental resources and he’s a leader among our students.”
School board members also honored Lancaster County School District’s 2013 South Carolina Junior Scholars from A.R. Rucker Middle, Buford Middle and South Middle schools, 20 students in all.
Parker said that in order to qualify as a Junior Scholar, students must score at least 50 or better on one section of the PSAT test.
“This is certainly no simple task,” Parker said. “Their performance is truly a tribute to hard work and dedication by the students and their parents throughout their school careers.
“Congratulations again to all of you,” he said. “We are very proud of you and the effort you put forth. Keep up the good work.”
This year’s Junior Scholars from the three schools are:
– A.R. Rucker Middle School – Hunter Funderburk, Michael Duffell-Hoffman, Alex Lambert, Powers Norrell and Noah Phillips
– Buford Middle School – Austin Hilton, Tyler Jenkins, Jeremy Jones, Stephanie Vasquez Loaeza, Taylor Loughry, Daniel MacAnn, Austin Mahaffey, Dilan Moore, Austin Walters and Ethan West
– South Middle School – Monterion Blackmon, James George, Tristan Goodyear, Madeline Harper and Emily Outen.
Junior Scholars from the district’s other middle schools will be honored at next month’s school board meeting.
Contact reporter Reece Murphy at (803) 283-1151