Rock Hill school board seeks help in defining equity

Jane Sharp
Jane Sharp

A yet-to-be-selected committee will help the Rock Hill school board define what equity is for the district’s three high schools.

An issue since South Pointe High School opened 10 years, equity for the high schools had its first major public discussion by the school board Monday.

Chairman Jim Vining – who was on the board when South Pointe opened – said the board initially agreed there should be equity among the schools “without defining it. We gave that task to school administration.”

On Monday, Vining asked board members to define equity.

A majority of the board endorsed Jane Sharp’s opinion:

“Equity does not mean exactly equal. Our job is to provide the opportunity for the fullest school experience. It does not mean exactly the same for every school,” said Sharp, a former school principal who was elected to the board in 2010.

Board members agreed the issue is more than athletics, and the primary focus should be on the students.

Yet Sharp, who said she was “not really a high school sports person,” acknowledged sports help build the “soft skills,” such as leadership and teamwork, that are being sought by employers.

The board held a lengthy discussion on a process to determine equity. They agreed to form a committee, composed of representatives from each of the district’s three high schools, but couldn’t agree on the panel’s membership or size.

Board members generally agreed the study committee should include principals, administrators, teachers, parents and booster club representatives, with assistance from district administrators and possibly members of the school board.

When consensus was elusive, Vining said he would consider what had been said and draft a committee structure to consider at the board’s June 22 meeting.

School board member Elizabeth “Ann” Reid said she hoped the questions could be resolved quickly and “as we move forward we do not divide the city into segments.”

School administrators, teachers and parents from each of the three high schools – many wearing their school colors – attended Monday night’s meeting. They were not allowed to speak. Public comment will be taken at the June 22 meeting, Vining said.

School administrators noted, however, there has been lot of comment, speculation – and in some instances wrong information – discussed in Rock Hill since the South Pointe School Improvement Council made a presentation to the board in early May.

South Pointe High principal Al Leonard and Dan Ballou of the School Improvement Council raised several concerns with Superintendent Kelly Pew shortly after she took office in April 2014. They were:

▪ The effects of demographics. How do South Pointe’s demographics compare with the other two high schools? A South Pointe study concluded all three high schools were about equal when academic performance, extracurricular achievement and factors such as free or reduced-price lunch were studied.

▪ The effects of attendance. Are students who should be going to South Pointe allowed to go elsewhere? Leonard said the rules have been tightened but it was never a serious problem.

▪ The effects of enrollment. Does South Pointe’s enrollment affect the school’s ability to have the minimum number of students needed to offer a class or its ability to raise funds?

South Pointe’s enrollment this school year was just less than 1,300, which is about 100 less than two years ago. Northwestern High School’s enrollment was about 1,850 this year, an increase of about 120 from two years ago, and Rock Hill High School’s enrollment was just less than 2,000, an increase of about 30 students from two years ago.

Leonard said South Pointe’s enrollment peaked at 1,450 and has been steadily declining.

Because of South Pointe’s lower enrollment, district officials allow the school to offer a class if 13 students sign up. The threshold at the other two high schools is 15.

Leonard said the concerns expressed to Pew were school-wide issues and not solely about athletics. He also said in their discussions with Pew, “we never brought up booster clubs.”

Leonard said he has been told this is an issue about each school having equal athletic funding.

“Fair doesn’t mean equal,” he said.

Pew asked Finney & Horton of Greenville to audit the per-pupil activity funds at all three schools, looking into student activities ranging from athletics to the French Club and high school yearbooks. The accountant’s report was issued early last month.

Leonard said two of the accountants’ proposals would especially help South Pointe: the school district paying the “fixed” athletic costs at each high school such as transportation to games, and the district paying the net costs for away playoff games.

Leonard and South Pointe parents have said the school’s declining enrollment affects its ability to raise enough revenue to meet expenses.

The school’s enrollment has led to increased transportation costs for athletics. The Stallions this year were dropped into Class 3A by the S.C. High School League after spending two years in Class 4A, which includes the state’s largest schools. Except for charter school York Preparatory Academy, all other York County public high schools are in Class 4A, and all are in Region 3.

For most of those schools, the longest trip for region games is to Gaffney.

South Pointe’s competitors in Region 3, Class 3A, include Union County, Broome in Spartanburg County, and Clinton. The other two region foes are Chester and Lancaster.

From a financial perspective, “we are being penalized for our athletic success,” Leonard said. South Pointe has won state football titles in 2008, 2011 and 2014.

Leonard said covering the fixed costs and post-season costs would help South Pointe erase a deficit in its student activity accounts. As of June 30, 2014, the balances in these accounts were: Rock Hill, $133,612; Northwestern, $61,335; and South Pointe, a deficit of $154,087.

The accountant recommended – and Pew has endorsed – eliminating the South Pointe deficit by splitting it between the school and the school district. The school would have three years to pay its share. Leonard said that would be possible with help from booster funds, especially if the school district pays the fixed costs for its sports teams.

Don Worthington •  803-329-4066