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BCSD board hears opinions over new high school location


The June 25 meeting of the Barnwell County School District board started with public comments favoring a central location for the new countywide high school.
At a previous meeting held June 11, the board unveiled four concepts for the new school. Three involve the current Barnwell High School (BHS) campus while a fourth involves a new site. The firms that developed the four concepts said the concept involving a central location is ideal, but recommended building a new school on the BHS site due to the cost being less.
“This is a decision that will affect Barnwell County for years to come. County council wants the school in a location that is fair to all citizens of the county,” said Barnwell County Council Chairman Jerry Creech, an alumnus of Blackville.
Fellow Councilman Don Harper expressed his thoughts after speaking to constituents. His district goes to the outskirts of the Williston side of Barnwell County.
“Are we going to make our students drive 21.7 miles to school?” asked Harper. He was referring to the distance it takes to get from Barnwell High School to the edge of his district.
Creech said he feels there has not been “adequate input” from the community and cited there’d been no dialogue between the school district and the county until a couple weeks ago.
“I urge you not to make a hasty decision. Williston and Blackville deserve a say,” said Creech, citing how the BCSD board is “stacked” with more Barnwell representation.
Blackville Town Administrator Fonda Patrick, who served on the board for the previous consolidation, spoke as a town official and as a citizen of Blackville.
“As a concerned citizen, some of the things we are worried about is property value,” said Patrick of a new school bringing opportunities to the area where it’s built, including jobs, economic development, and tax revenue.
Blackville resident Kathy Orr spent many years as a teacher and administrator. Her husband, the late Fred Orr, was also a teacher.
“It’s well worth taking more time and spending more money…for optimal success. This may be our best chance to build a more united county as a whole,” said Orr, who favors a central location, such as the site of the Barnwell County Career Center
“Don’t let money stop you from making the right decision,” said Blackville Mayor Ronnie Pernell to the board.
Ferlecia Cuthbertson served on the Williston School District 29 Board before it consolidated with Barnwell School District 19 (Blackville-Hilda). She said there was more community input during that phase of consolidation. However, she said, “we have felt left from the table” during this phase of consolidation. As a member of a group of concerned citizens from Williston and Blackville, Cuthbertson said they are asking the board to wait three months before deciding on the new school’s location while they gather input on what the majority of citizens want.
Councilmen Creech and Harper both urged the board to look at other locations, not just the BHS site.
If the board thinks the BHS site is best after investigating, then Harper said they should do what’s best.
“I believe we’ve tried to get input,” said BCSD board chairman Terry Richardson. However, he encouraged the public to share their input on the location, including why they believe their location is best and how to fund the extra cost. His email is
“We know there are monumental decisions facing the school board. We want to make sure that doesn’t overshadow the good work our staff are doing,” said Superintendent Dr. Crissie Stapleton.
The BCSD board did not vote on anything related to the new high school, as it was not an agenda item. However, the board acted on many other items of business.
BCSD Chief Financial Officer Holly Hutto presented the third reading of the budget, which is balanced at $44,867,757.50.
“During the collaborative budget process, a meeting was held with each department and school to discuss their unique needs. Those needs have been assessed and have been equalized and distributed appropriately based on student population, programs offered, special considerations, and overall needs,” said Hutto.
Projected revenue includes $12,185,201 in local revenue, $21,788,977.50 in state revenue, $5,907,112 in state fee in lieu of taxes, $2,486,467 in federal and other sources, and $2,500,000 in consolidation funds.
“Consolidation funds can be used for any offset of revenues,” said Hutto.
Salaries and benefits make up 88 percent of the district’s expenditures at $39,483,626.60. This includes equalizing salaries across the county after a salary study was conducted. Also included is an increase in the starting salary for a first-year teacher, which the state has increased by $4,500. The district included a pay scale for teachers that is 4 percent above the state minimum schedule.
“While every pay cell on the statewide salary schedule increases, the increases are not by a uniform amount. Starting teacher pay (bachelor’s degree and no years of experience) would go up by $4,500; however, other pay cells increase by as little as $100,” said Hutto.
The board unanimously approved the third reading of the fiscal year 2024-25 general fund budget of $44,867,757.50 with the operating millage of 243.1 as calculated and determined by the Department of Revenue. They also approved the district’s operating millage change from 243.1 to 253.1 as allowed by local governing bodies based on the information received from the S.C. Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office and the consumer price index increase of Barnwell County.
Dr. Stapleton thanked Hutto and her team for the work they did to prepare the budget. “We have a very strong finance department moving forward with the new district,” said Stapleton.
The board also approved a capital improvement bond, not to exceed $1.8 million, to fund various projects at all schools and athletic facilities across the district.
“This bond will not increase taxes. The debt millage will remain the same. The amount is determined by the available 8% debt capacity the school district is allowed,” said Hutto.
Each principal gave their top five facility needs. The bond will address at least three at each school, said Stapleton.
In Other News:
• BCSD Chief Operations Officer Mike Beasley met with principals throughout the county and representatives from the sheriff’s office to revisit the district’s Comprehensive Safety Plan. “They collaborated and created a cohesive plan that addresses the board’s policy on expectations regarding safety drills and safety procedures. Final sections are being added with specific details for each facility,” said Stapleton.
• Several teams met to review discipline codes and create cohesive codes for the 2024-25 school year. Once complete, these will be used districtwide.
• For the district’s Pre-K programs, Stapleton said they are “making sure we are encouraging and recruiting as many Pre-K students as possible.” Barnwell Primary has 54 four-year-olds registered for traditional 4K, 42 three-year-olds and four-year-olds registered for Montessori, and a waiting list of 6 three-year-olds. At Kelly Edwards Elementary in Williston, 20 four-year-olds are registered and there are 8 on the waiting list. At Macedonia Elementary in Blackville, there are 18 four-year-olds registered.
• Pre-K and kindergarten classes across the county will have a staggered start for the new school year. The State Department of Education allows districts to submit a waiver for a staggered start for the purpose of scheduling readiness assessments for kindergarten and/or CERDEP students. Parents will receive a letter from their child’s teacher regarding which day their child will attend between August 5-9. All students will attend daily starting August 12.
• The BCSD is looking to show appreciation to staff during July. “As we embark on a new chapter with the consolidation of our school districts into the Barnwell County School District, we invite local businesses, county leaders, and more to help us celebrate and support our dedicated staff as we prepare for the 2024-2025 school year,” said Stapleton.
• Stakeholder meetings are being planned to present highlights and gain feedback from key stakeholder groups, such as ministers, retired educators, student alumni, School Improvement Councils, amd the District Advisory Council.
• Stapleton thanked staff who are working this summer, including maintenance working to prepare buildings and working on facility projects across the county, food service providing children with meals within the Summer Feed Programs, principals preparing for the new year, teachers and aides working within the summer programs, and district office staff working to collaborate and refine operations.
• Following closed session, the board unanimously approved two out of district student transfer requests and one school choice transfer request.