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Superintendent Addresses Issue of Perception at Town Hall Meeting

Aiken County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Sean Alford addressed concerns that some schools in the district receive more benefits and have better facilities than others Tuesday at the sixth town hall meeting at Silver Bluff High School.

One audience member said North Augusta High has advantages other schools do not, citing the new classrooms buildings, the football stadium, the field's artificial turf and the jumbotron scoreboard.

“The perception is that North Augusta High is the elite,” he said.

Alford responded, saying he has heard the same opinion in “every corner of this county.”

“There is not a single place that someone doesn't feel that they are the red-headed stepchild, no matter where,” he said.

Alford said the district must first address the most pressing needs, including alleviating overcrowding at Midland Valley High and Byrd Elementary in Graniteville and planning for anticipated growth in North Augusta.

“I can tell you where I have kids that don't have seats right now. I can tell you where there are teaches who don't have classrooms,” he said. “We've got to address those things first. We're going to do what kids need and what teachers need.”

School Board Chairman Levi Green, who represents the Silver Bluff High area, said he did not vote for the artificial turf, but he understands why it was needed.

Because the school did not have adequate land for practice fields for the football team and the band, the school had to bus the teams to other fields to practice while getting the natural field ready for game night.

“That was unsafe and not convenient,” Green said.

Green said North Augusta High's athletic booster club paid for the scoreboard, as did Aiken High's.

“The school district did not pay for it,” he said. “It might look like they're being treated special, but they really are not.”

Alford said the district's five areas need to work together for the good of the whole.

“We've spent all of our time for the past couple of decades fighting against each other for a little bit of resources instead of holding hands and trying to procure more for all of us,” he said.

Since early November, the school district has been holding town hall meetings to provide information and get community feedback about four recommendations to rezone students who live in the Trolley Run Station neighborhood from Graniteville to Aiken schools; create an intermediate school for sixth-graders in the Aiken area Aiken Middle School; move students who live along the Barnwell County line from Aiken schools to New Ellenton Middle STEAM Magnet School and Silver Bluff High; expand Midland Valley High; build additions at Millbrook, Belvedere and Hammond Hill elementary schools; and build a new elementary and a new middle school in North Augusta near Exit 5 on I-20.

The final town hall meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Oakwood-Windsor Elementary School at 3773 Charleston Highway, Aiken.

Alford also responded to a question about how the decisions on the recommendations will be made, asking specifically if area representatives on the School Board will have weighted votes.

“There are not weighted votes,” Alford said. “Our board has nine members, and they each have an equal vote. We will take the time as we prepare for that vote to help them understand all the feedback from the community. We don't make decisions behind closed doors. These are the community schools. These are our schools.”

School Board member Keith Liner added that any decision on funding any of the recommended new facilities and recommendations would have to be made by voters.

Story by Larry Wood, The Aiken Standard

December 5, 2017