D45 seeks federal funding to upgrade career center

The Barnwell District 45 school board met in a specially-called meeting March 1 on whether to send school district officials to meet with elected representatives in Washington, D.C. about a joint project with SouthernCarolina Regional Development Alliance.

The proposal before the board was to have Barnwell 45 officials accompany a delegation from SouthernCarolina to seek federal funding to upgrade the Barnwell County Career Center. Barnwell 45 and SouthernCarolina are considering a collaborative effort to build a facility that would jointly house the career center, a technical college and an early childhood development center to benefit the whole county.

SouthernCarolina Alliance helps with rural regional economic development and business recruitment for Barnwell, Allendale, Bamberg, Hampton, Jasper and Colleton counties.

The Barnwell County Career Center opened in late 1969 in a 36,000-square-foot building. Currently the career center serves 300 high school students from the Barnwell, Blackville and Williston school districts and teaches coursework in 12 subjects, including such career fields as early childhood education, welding, automotive, electricity, health science and drafting.

Board member Abraham Sexton moved to approve the proposal for Barnwell 45 to join the SouthernCarolina delegation headed to Washington, D.C. The trip would occur sometime in late March.

During discussion, school board member Valenda Black asked who the members of the delegation would be.

Barnwell 45 Superintendent Jay Grissom said the delegation would consist of several people from SouthernCarolina including its president and CEO, Danny Black, Barnwell 45 Assistant Superintendent Crissie Stephens and himself.

“Why is Stephens going?” asked Black.

“Stephens is a persuasive and powerful negotiator,” said Grissom, stating that she (Stephens) would need to stay current with this issue.

“If the board is not in favor of that, that’s okay too,” he said of whether Stephens should be part of the delegation.

“I like the idea of Ms. Stephens going, she has a good personality. She needs experience in this,” said school board member Rhett Richardson.

School board member Chad Perry said it might take more than one trip to Washington for Barnwell 45 to make its needs known to legislators and that it would be good for Stephens to attend in case only one school official could be sent on the next trip.

Black asked how much it would cost to send Grissom and Stephens on this trip.

Grissom said it would cost approximately $1,400 each for the two of them to go.

In the meeting Richardson and other board members said there is a possibility of a potential donor who would cover the trip for Grissom and Stephens.

During the meeting Sexton said he sees the importance of sending a delegation to network with the area’s elected representatives so they won’t forget the school district, its needs and would be less likely to turn down Barnwell 45’s requests in person than a voice on the phone.

“That’s money well spent. You want people to meet face-to-face,” Sexton said of spending money for the trip.

The next day, March 2, Grissom received confirmation that a private donor, who wished to remain anonymous, is covering all the expenses of Grissom and Stephens’s Washington trip.

School board chairperson Teresa Spence said the career center helps all the school districts and sees the necessity of this trip to secure funding for a new one.

“We need to go to the federal level and not just the state level,” Spence said.

“There’s money out there but they’re not going to just give it to you. You have to work for it,” Perry said.

“If you can get this money, it would be one of the greatest things to happen,” said Sexton of funding for the career center. Sexton has previously served on the career center’s board.

The school board voted 4-1 to approve the proposal on sending Grissom and Stephens to Washington, D.C. with the SouthernCarolina Alliance delegation. Valenda Black voted against the proposal.

The next day Black explained her objection to The People-Sentinel publisher Laura McKenzie. “When the motion was made, it was for a delegation to attend but didn’t name who was in the delegation. I wanted to know who was going,” she said.

While she says she “doesn’t have a real problem” with Stephens attending, she felt it prudent to ask why both the superintendent and assistant superintendent were going to be out of the district, especially at $1,400 each. “At the time, I didn’t know there was a sponsor,” she said.

Had she known that earlier, she said she might have voted differently.

While $2,800 is “not a large amount in our budget,” Black said there are “too many needs in the district and we still haven’t addressed the teacher pay issue.”