Horry County Schools reconsiders plans to increase class size

Horry County Schools reconsiders plans to increase class size

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - The Horry County School board is reconsidering increasing class size.

Members are discussing a new proposal which would avoid adding more students to your child's classroom, and keep the district from cutting positions.

Last week, the school board discussed adding one to two students to each middle and high school class.

It's a proposal that would eliminate 41 teaching positions, saving the district about $3 million dollars, to help pay for programs like personalized digital learning.

At the finance committee meeting Wednesday, a new plan was presented. It proposes to use extra money allocated for programs like Read to Succeed. This would save the district $3.1 million.

"We have some other areas, where we have unallocated funds that are in the budget, and we can just shift those funds over instead of putting students in the class," Horry County School Board Chair Joe DeFeo said.

School board member John Poston spoke out at the meeting saying class size matters. He doesn't understand why we'd try to save $3 million at the cost of children's education, when an average of $11 million dollars goes into reserves for the district each year.

"Children are our most important resource and teachers our most important asset," Poston said. "Class size matters and we should try to make every effort to keep our teacher to student ratio as small as possible."

DeFeo said he would like the school board to decide whether or not to add more students to a class, once and for all, instead of bringing up the topic, each year.

The board will discuss both proposals at the meeting Monday, December 14, and vote on it in the first meeting in January.

New Schools

While at the Finance meeting, the committee spent a great deal of time discussing the cost of building new schools.

WMBF News asked DeFeo why, of the three builders in the final running for taking on these projects, the district picked the one with the highest price tag.

"It's not that we took the highest bid it's that we took the best school for our children, for our teachers and for our community," DeFeo said.

The company, First Floor Positive Energy, wants to collect more than $219 million to build five new Horry County Schools. This comes more than $50 million dollars over budget.

DeFeo said all three companies came in over budget; M.B. Kahn Construction Co. came in at more than $184 million and Thompson-Turner Construction at more than $198 million.

"No way, no how anyone could build those schools for that budget that was set over a year and a half ago," DeFeo said.

Since setting the budget, the district decided on building energy positive schools, a model which allows the schools to generate their own power, selling the rest back to energy companies, and saving money over time.

While on the topic of trying to save money, a question brought up is, why spend $40,000 hiring a consultant, and not act on its advice? The consultant placed the company the district chose last on its list.

"The board nor did the selection committee hire the consultant, we have our own experts, they were not needed, they were hired through the attorneys," he said.

Defeo said this consultant failed to look for a school that fit the criteria for new construction that the district came up with. These guidelines include elements the taxpayers feel a school should encompass.

For example, DeFeo said criteria includes geothermal heat pump. Instead, a responder put in residential air conditioning systems which would create a noisy atmosphere with the classroom makeup.

DeFeo said the consultants recommendation was based on budget.

"The real importance comes down to, was the school right? not just the money," he said.

First Floor was the only respondent who said they could build the schools by May of 2017.

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