Letter to the Editor
I was concerned about the focus of the new Darlington County Superintendent, Dr. Tim Newman, already focusing on more monies for construction of new schools. (Darlington County Board of Education discusses future facility needs, News & Press, September 5th, 2018).
First, I would assume Dr. Newman would be concerned with matching curriculum for students to what businesses will need in the next 10 years. Which is that jobs will require more skills and that most current jobs in our area will be done by automation (think retail kiosks, self-checkouts, artificial intelligence functions in service industries etc.).
Second, our county population is declining, and business growth is stagnant. We seek to compete with Florence County and also the more major markets of Columbia and Charlotte, which is difficult for this poor county as we do not have a lot to offer outside of a few pockets of key development to entice new business and talent to move here.
So, I think the best course of action is to reduce the school real estate footprint. Consolidate administrative and back-office operations and pursue cost effective synergies with other counties. Along with this, reduce the surplus fund which is taxpayer monies tied up and avoid the use of bonds as possible. And focus on increasing compensation for educators and again, not tie monies up in underutilized real estate.
A creative option for building of school space would be to seek commercial buildings that could be leased, thereby providing a way to more quickly move into space when needed and then divest of space when not needed.
The school district should not own too much property or buildings to allow for the scaling up or down as population changes (trending downward).
School districts are going to have become more corporate in their thinking or they will continue to become less relevant as a strong partner in education. There are other channels of education developing as technology is enabling a disruption in traditional educational methods.
For example do we really need to run half full school buses and related overhead (not to mention not being overly “green”) when we could school more children at home and/or in leased centers of excellence closer to their homes with live, virtual educators?
Let’s run the business portion of the school model more efficiently and better support the students to compete in the future. The answer is not in more brick and mortar.