Group protests plan to change elementary to middle school

December 15, 2003|EMILY BURTON

STANFORD - A shivering group of about 15 parents armed with posters voiced their opposition Friday to a Lincoln County Board of Education decision in October to convert Kings Mountain Memorial Elementary into a middle school.

After several months of study, the board voted for the conversion, recommended by a planning committee, to help alleviate overcrowding throughout the system.

"We've got higher test scores. We scored higher than Waynesburg and Highland (elementaries in a state standardized test)," said Michelle Shelton, mother of three students at Kings Mountain.

"We don't want our kids deprived of a good education, 'cause they're getting one now," said Teresa Gilpin. Behind her, a car honked in support as it passed. "Personally, I think this whole thing has been done under the table."


Protest co-organizer Ruth Whitehead said a group was formed soon after she heard of the plan for her child's elementary. A petition has been signed by close to 200 citizens and county officials.

"Parents down there were unaware (of the board's decision). Three-fourths or more did not even have a clue," said Whitehead.

"My son is 6 years old, and I think it is wrong to take him away from his school and send him to a school where he doesn't know a single person," said Kim Bunch. "He's been there three years. It's going to be hard on him to adjust to another school."

Parents gathered in groups around school board member David Hacker to discuss the future of their school and community, while questioning the absence of other board members.

"Randy McGuffey is supposed to be our south-end (Kings Mountain area) guy. We never got an answer from him about why he can't be here," said Harlene Brunch.

"They're scared of us. You get a group of mad women together, and there's no telling what they might do," said protester Robin Comorat with a laugh.

Hacker listened to parents' concerns and tried to explain the board's reasoning, including consideration of costs and overcrowding. He said the elementary was chosen to be converted because it was losing money with so few children attending - less than 170 students.

"One idea I am trying to impose on them is that they are not losing a school. We're just taking the school and refurbishing it, not taking it away from the community," said Hacker. "All this activity here today is fine and good, but really it would have been better had they done this in June, and come to the public forums. Then they could have expressed their opinions quite well."

The protesters offered several alternatives, including building a new middle school and redistricting.

"I feel like they need to redistrict, and if they need a middle school, they can build a middle school beside Kings Mountain and leave it (Kings Mountain) as an elementary school," said Comorat. "I know Kings Mountain is losing money because not enough kids go there, but if they redistrict it, that would help."

In previous meetings, both ideas were considered by board members. The board decided that converting Kings Mountain would be more cost-effective than building a new school, and that redistricting would only be a temporary solution to overcrowding.

Parents might still have a chance to protest the board's decision during public forums held by the state, said Hacker. While the school board has made its final decision, it is still unclear whether or not the state will open the topic for public discussion or approve the board's recommendation.

"The school board right now is waiting for the state to say when they will send down a representative to hold a public forum," said Hacker. "But they're indecisive. One person says we have to have another public meeting, and another says, 'well, you don't really have to.'"

With or without another chance to address the board, Whitehead said the protests will continue.

"We'll be out here as long as it takes, until 3 o'clock when the bell rings for me to pick up my child," said Whitehead. "As my poster says, we won't go down easy and we'll fight fire with fire."

"A wise man once said, 'you take away your school, you take away your church, and you won't have a community,'" said Gilpin. "This school is our community."

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