The board room was packed with supporters and opponents of the proposed spending.
Many at the meeting were heading to a meeting of the planning commission in Pickens, so those were allowed to speak first.
Wendell Clark said that the district could distribute students more efficiently and avoid the cost of a second middle school in Easley.
“If having a second middle school in Easley was so important, why did you wait until you spent all the money to include it in the plan,” Clark said.
Clark also questioned the planning of the project.
“Do you think that Gettys Middle School and other schools have any asbestos in them?” Clark said. “Have you factored in the cost of that removal?”
Clark also put the district’s financial figures to question.
“You estimate that it will cost $5.3 million,” Clark said. “That work will be done about a year from now. Do you think the prices will go up by the time you put the job out for bid?”
Clark also wondered if the board had more plans to increase taxes.
“The board is facing a $5 million deficit next year,” Clark said. “Where is the money going to come from to run these extra buildings and bigger buildings? Is there a future tax increase you are not telling us about?”
Connie Hollingsworth of the Gettys PTO said that the group unanimously supports the plan proposed by Dr. Henry Hunt, Superintendent of the School District of Pickens County.
Junius Smith appeared before the board to share his contention that school facilities are the responsibility of the state,
“I want to remind you all that I came to every member of the board about the illegality of what we do,” Smith said.
Smith said that the local leaders should force the state to take responsibility of the facilities.
“It’s time our local leaders start fighting for the people,” Smith said. “We need to sue the state to take care of its facilities,”
Jay Ratteree of Easley said that he understood the views from both sides of the issue, but he felt that the current population of Gettys Middle School is just too large for one school.
He remembered his sixth-grade year, and the many changes that happened in his life at that time.
Ratteree said that having an overcrowded school at that age could be devastating to a child’s life.
Ratteree said that he felt that since Easley provides half of the tax base for the county, two middle schools was not an unreasonable request.
Ken Hovanski said he doesn’t know where the money will come from if school expenses continue to grow. He said that he looked for the increased tax burden to drive people away from Pickens County.
Dennis Reinhardt questioned whether it was wise for a school district, or an individual for that matter, to borrow money to pay on borrowed money.
Reinhardt said that the decisions made today would affect the children in the future as taxpayers of Pickens County.
Mary Kelly remembered that she had called upon the school board to cut officials salaries by 10 percent in order to avoid laying off teachers, but that proposal was not adopted.
Kelly said that the economic conditions were getting worse, not better. She challenged the school district to take care of the schools’ basic needs and to forget about expensive building programs the district simply could not afford.
“Would you borrow money if you disposable income could only pay the interest?” Kelly asked.’
Nancy Miller said that the economic conditions proved that this was not the time to expand the district’s debt.
Miller said that with local textile mills closing and kids going to bed hungry, “talking about raising the property tax is ludicrous.”
Christine O’Connell is a librarian at Gettys Middle School. O’Connell said she had given the matter much thought, and she felt that dividing the current Gettys population into two schools was worth the sacrifice.
O’Connell reported that more that 74,000 student visits to the Gettys library were made last year.
The library has 542 students visiting daily.
O’Connell said that she hoped in future years when money has been freed from obligations, the school libraries can be restored. She said that four elementary schools only had a librarian on duty one day a week.
Bill Ellias said he remembered the Great Depression, when many people lost their homes due to tax increases. Ellias said he remembered a family that tried to make ends meet by heating with a kerosene heater. Their son’s lungs were damaged by the gas fumes and he had to drop out of school.
Ellias that the board’s actions have long-term effects on Pickens County families.
“All I’m asking is that you be prudent with all the money you spend,” Ellias said.
Retired contractor Leo Smith wondered if the board considered the economic conditions of the county, the country and the world before making a decision.
Michael Reeves said that the district wastes money on building projects, but doesn’t cover basic needs.
“We put our kids in school, then the first thing we hear is that they’re going to raise money,” Reeves said. “It gets under your skin.”
Reeves noted that one principal is earning more than $100,000, while other teachers are being laid off.
Gettys Middle School Principal Mike Cory brought 133 letters from students at his school. Of those letters, 74 were in favor of splitting Gettys into two schools.
Those opposed were concerned about losing their friends, Cory said. Those in favor realized that there were just too many students at Gettys for everyone to get a good education.
Cory said that splitting the schools was not a luxury but a need.
“If you’ve been to Gettys, I can assure you that it’s no Taj Mahal,” Corey said. “If you come to Gettys after the renovations, I can assure you it still won’t be a Taj Mahal. And after Easley High School is rennovated, it won’t be a Taj Mahal.”
Cory said that the advantages of having a two smaller middle schools outweigh other concerns.
“The students should not be neglected,” Cory said. “You can see why this is a very timely occasion to do this. The solution is not to ignore Gettys Middle School.”
Board Chairman Jim Shelton said he was overwhelmed by the response.
He noted that with no vote, school taxes for Pickens County would be 55 mills in 2011. With the proposed changes approved, school taxes for 2011 would be increased to 58 mills as a worst case scenario, and return to their normal schedule in 2012.