The Union County school board unanimously rejected Tuesday night a $3 million offer for mobile classrooms from county commissioners, who wanted the board to buy the units and avoid a controversial redistricting plan.
The school board said commissioners led them to believe the offer came with no strings attached.
But a board attorney said he learned Tuesday that the county wanted the money counted as paying part of a $91 million jury award that the school board had won against the county. The case is under appeal.
“I have a hard time with this (offer.) The political gamesmanship goes back and forth at the expense of the kids, and it’s not fair to them,” school board Chairman Richard Yercheck said. “I’m a bit heartsick I always have to question what comes to me from other elected officials in the county.”
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But after the vote, Commissioners Chairman Frank Aikmus said the school board was misinformed, and the $3 million came with no strings attached and was not tied to the jury verdict.
“The inability to get the facts before they take a vote … clearly shows a lack of leadership of the board of education,” Aikmus said.
He made sure school board members received official word form the county Tuesday night that they were misinformed, and renewed his call for the boards to hold a joint meeting.
The school board is considering Union’s first countywide redistricting plan, which would require about 5,800 of its 41,800 students – 14 percent – to change schools to deal with overcrowding.
“I can’t say enough how (potentially) devastating this could be for children,” Superintendent Mary Ellis said, adding she was speaking as a parent. “A re-assignment will be an uprooting of children.”
Looking for alternatives
After the vote, the board’s discussion with staff included possible alternatives to redistricting, such as additional construction at some overcrowded schools. One variation of redistricting would include possibly exempting rising fifth- and eighth-graders from redistricting. They had already decided to exempt rising high school seniors.
The meeting room was packed with parents, some sporting antiredistricting buttons.
Many parents opposed to redistricting have clogged school board and county commissioner meetings, as well as jumped on social media outlets, to try to get their concerns out. Some feared redistricting could result in lower home values or send their students to lower-performing schools.
A final decision on the issue is expected in April.
In early February, commissioners made the surprise offer for the mobile classrooms, and cited the district’s own analysis as stating that the mobile classrooms were one of the short-term alternatives to redistricting. Commissioners said redistricting was tearing communities apart, and their plan would help keep neighborhoods intact while still protecting taxpayers.
Three of 53 schools already have reached their maximum capacity; in November, the school district capped enrollment for two middle schools and an elementary school.
Union County is the sixth-largest school district in the state.