It's almost time for another school year to begin. In Cherokee County, SC, this past school year had a tumultous ending. There were several budget issues, which prompted board member Alan McEntire to make some proposals. One of the ones that drew the most attention was merging Blacksburg High School, Gaffney High School and the Cherokee Technology Center into one school. There was also long term talk of combining some elementary schools and all of the county's middle schools.
McEntire, however, needed a quick solution to the budgeting woes, and before the new fiscal year began. He found that the county was spending thousands of dollars more on Blacksburg students than those of Gaffney. His next proposal really stirred the pot: closing Blacksburg Middle, and moving the students to Blacksburg Elementary and Blacksburg High.
Blacksburg is long known for their strong, tight knit community, especially regarding education. Therefore, they banded together to try and prevent this immediate move. Town residents circulated petitions, made their presence known at three different meetings, wrote letters, and expressed their views via social media.
The smoke cleared and when the budget was approved on June 25, Blacksburg Middle stayed open.
However,as a Blacksburg resident and an employee in the city of Gaffney for 10 years, I don't think this matter is over.
The simple fact is there are people in Gaffney that want to see the schools merged and have for a while. Now someone (McEntire) has come forward with a plan to do so.
I'm going to explain as simply and as unbiased as I can why a merger would not be in the best interest of the county.
1. It would be most beneficial to Gaffney and not Blacksburg. For years, it has been a case of the haves and have nots in Cherokee County. Gaffney has the bigger, nicer schools, state of the art sports facilities, and simply the upper hand. Meanwhile, Blacksburg did receive a new gym and a 9th grade wing. However, the football stadium hasn't received anything in over 30 years but a new concession stand, bathrooms, and cement poured under the dilipating visitor's section. Also, the baseball field is at the elementary school.
Both Blacksburg and Gaffney stand to lose what they have, especially Blacksburg. And the Gaffney Indians wouldn't even be called that anymore. It would be something like the Cherokee County Indians.
2. McEntire clams that mergers and closings would save the county money long term. But what about now? It will cost millions of dollars to build a new high school, not to mention the extra wear and tear on the school buses. The residents simply cannot afford that gamble right now.
3. The district lines need to be redrawn before any talk of a merger begins. Many students that attend both schools would potentially live much farther away from the new school, especially those in outer rural areas. These such students should be given an option to enroll in a closer school in a town such as Cowpens, Chesnee, York, or even Shelby.
4. Both communties pride themselves on their schools and sports programs. You would have way more division than anything else. Change doesn't come easy in small cities and towns, and it shouldn't come at harming the students and communities long term. Mergers have been successful at other places and counties. However, those places had different agendas and circumstances.
5. It's always about the money, often in the form of the sports programs. Gaffney has one of the top sports programs in the state. They have been luring Blacksburg players for decades to come and play at the larger school. Merging the schools could potentially mean more revenue, and ensure that the powerhouse football program stays in the largest classification, the Big 16. Of course the community as a whole would have to fall in and show support. This could be more trouble than it's worth.
Well this is my piece. I would honestly like to see the best happen for the entire county. However, the school board needs a good, long term plan for saving and budgeting money, and not go for the quick fix.