Equity sought for Rock Hill’s high schools

South Pointe’s move to Class 3A football has been cited as one of the reasons the school is having problems with revenue equaling expenses. With the move to 3A the Stallions lost many of their natural rivals and now have to travel farther for district games.
South Pointe’s move to Class 3A football has been cited as one of the reasons the school is having problems with revenue equaling expenses. With the move to 3A the Stallions lost many of their natural rivals and now have to travel farther for district games. Special to The Herald

Do students at South Pointe High School have access to resources that are equal to those at Northwestern and Rock Hill high schools?

Rock Hill School District board members and administrators are examining that question after South Pointe parents, boosters and others raised concerns. The topic was discussed at a school board work session last Monday, and board chairman Jim Vining said the conversation will likely continue at another work session June 8.

When South Pointe opened 10 years ago, school board members said there should be equity among all three district high schools, “without defining what equity was,” Vining said.

“We left that to the administration to define.”

The result, he said, is “everyone has a different idea of what (equity) means.”

The issue has sharpened following an accountant’s review of money spent at all three high schools on student activities, which range from athletics to the French club and high school yearbooks. The accountant’s report was issued early last month.

Superintendent Kelly Pew hired Greene Finney & Horton of Greenville to audit the district’s per pupil activity funds after she met with South Pointe officials and parents who raised four concerns with her:

▪ How do South Pointe’s demographics compare with the other 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-lunch were studied.

▪ Are students who should be going to South Pointe allowed to go elsewhere?

▪ Is South Pointe’s enrollment affecting the school’s ability to have the minimum number of students needed to offer a class? Because of South Pointe’s lower enrollment, district officials allow the school to offer a class if 13 students sign up. The threshold at other high schools is 15.

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

▪ Does South Pointe’s declining enrollment affect its ability to raise funds?

The report found that South Pointe has run a deficit in its pupil activity accounts for several years. As of June 30, 2014, South Pointe’s deficit was $154,087 while Northwestern and Rock Hill had positive balances of $61,335 and $132,612 respectively.

The report said a “lack of a culture of ‘living within our means’ has contributed to the pupil deficits at South Pointe High School.”

Al Leonard, who has been South Pointe’s principal since it opened in fall 2005, said someone could reach that conclusion if they only looked at the numbers.

“But, we don’t spend regardless. It’s not spend, spend, spend. That’s not the case,” he said. “We have done a lot with less.”

Some of the deficits are the result of trying to make sure South Pointe students have equitable access to activities available at the district’s other high schools, Leonard said.

He cited the yearbook as an example. When South Pointe opened with just freshmen and sophomores, the students produced a yearbook that lacked the “senior” advertising support usually found in yearbooks.

“Other schools had color yearbooks, ours was black and white,” he said. “There was a hue and cry over that” from those who believed South Pointe’s should have been equal to other high schools.

Leonard and South Pointe parents stressed that 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 Prep, 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.

The report by Greene Finney & Horton recommends bringing equity to student activity funding by specifying how activities will be funded, such as by activity fees and by booster club support with the remaining costs funded by a district allocation. The district allocation may not be the same for each school.

Leonard said that recommendation is important for athletics. Discussions among school officials have been focused on the district funding “fixed” costs such as travel or game security, Leonard said.

Another recommendation in the report is that South Pointe’s student activity fund deficit be paid off between the school and the district.

The report made several recommendations for school activity funding and accountability at all three schools. The recommendations include:

▪ Booster clubs at all three high schools need a more consistent accounting of revenue and expenses. Inconsistencies in reporting financial information from booster clubs and schools to the school district office made it impossible for auditors to complete an analysis.

▪ The school district should “work toward” a culture where certain student activities are self supporting. Among those suggested were the yearbook, newspaper and literary magazine, student government, civic clubs, clubs associated with certain classes such as French or Spanish club and honor societies. A fee would be charged to cover the cost of the activity.

▪ A budget process for all student activities should be established to help principals, activity sponsors and coaches to operate within their budgets.

Pew said school officials are working to implement all of the recommendations. Some of the recommendations will ultimately affect all schools, she said. They will first be applied at the high schools.

Pew said the accountant’s report was a “thorough job,” one that will clarify relationships between the district, the schools, and booster organizations.

“Without the schools and the students there would be no need for the boosters to exist,” Pew said. While the district will continue to have some distance from the boosters, “we will set the guidelines,” Pew said.

Leonard, the South Pointe principal, and Dan Ballou, a spokesman for South Pointe’s School Improvement Council, said the report is a key step in a public dialogue that has been needed for some time. A meeting with Pew and the high school principals, athletic directors and other administrators is scheduled for the coming weeks to discuss athletic funding.

Ballou addressed the school board at last Monday’s work session about South Pointe’s concerns, as well as issues raised in the accountant’s report. Ballou said the comment about South Pointe having a culture of not living within its means was a red flag, but there have been problems because certain activities were “underfunded from the beginning.”

Vining, the school board chairman, said the board will consider all the issues raised. South Pointe parents “have a right to get things answered,” he said.

But, he said, it’s not a simple solution as the city’s growth patterns are in the Northwestern and Rock Hill high school attendance zones.

Some have suggested the school board change the attendance zones, but Ballou acknowledges “that’s a tall political order.”

Don Worthington •  803-329-4066