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Roundtable discussion held

A roundtable discussion between the Charlotte County School Board and the Charlotte County Board of Supervisors was held to facilitate discussion surrounding the needs of elementary schools in the county.

“We want to have a frank, open discussion of needs, wants and try to figure out what we can afford to do, if anything,” said Chairman of the Charlotte County Board of Supervisors Gary Walker. “Everything we do has to be paid for and the taxpayers of Charlotte County are the ones who are going to have to pay for it.”

Red Oak/Wylliesburg Supervisor Kay Pierantoni said the school board presented their needs, including the need for two elementary school gyms at Bacon District Elementary and Phenix Elementary, along with additional classrooms at Phenix Elementary.

“I don’t know how that $3 million figure came about, but that was the first thing that concerned me,” said Pierantoni.

Superintendent of Charlotte County Schools Nancy Leonard said “looking at the amount of money that was spent at Eureka, which was $3.1 million, we have about the same number of children at Bacon and Phenix, so here’s my response, ‘well let’s see what we can do for $3.1 million … ,’” she said.

“I see some merit in trying to bridge the gap and serve the people,” said Pierantoni. “We can fight community versus consolidated schools, board after board, as different people get elected. Or, we can try to find a way to compromise and go forward in my humble opinion.”

Pierantoni said if money was going to be spent for gyms, she’d like to see them be community gyms that could be used under school supervision by the public at some point.

“It wouldn’t cost that much more,” she said.

“There’s no reason why they can’t be used after hours by other people …,” said Phenix/Aspen Supervisor Donna Fore.

She said the gyms should be built with that in mind, since there are no YMCA recreational facilities in the county.

Fore said the gyms could also become places for adult learning at night.

“The county could make revenue off of using that school after hours,” she said.

Pierantoni said she thought the consolidated versus community school debate should be a referendum on the ballot in order to let the citizens of Charlotte County decide.

“I think we need to forget about a referendum … ” said Keysville Supervisor Butch Shook. He said the elected officials were put in place to make decisions on behalf of the citizens and should make those decisions.

“I bet you if a referendum was done today, 75 percent of the people would say no consolidated school. Probably higher than that,” he said.

Shook said if the gyms are opened for community use, someone would have to be responsible for the building and someone would have to be paid to be there.

Drakes Branch District School Board Representative Gloria Talbott said three adult gyms were not needed in Charlotte County.

In addition, Shook said he wants the community schools to be as safe and comfortable for the students as possible without high tax increases.

“Let’s know the full extent of what we’re renovating,” Fore said. She said she is not a fan of consolidation and likes community schools. “If we’re going to give it some life, if we’re really going to fix it, then let’s fix it properly … ” said Fore.

Drakes Branch Supervisor Garland H. Hamlett, Jr. said most of the people in his district he has talked to are not fans of consolidated schools.

“They think that community schools serve the purpose more than a consolidated school,” he said.

Hamlett said if the school building at Eureka is closed, it would be just another vacant building deteriorating.

He said he did not think small children needed to be transported long distances to school and the schools at Bacon District and Phenix can be fixed.

Walker said facilities has been the topic of discussion for years now, however, “it’s not the facilities that are teaching our children.”

“We haven’t said anything about taking care of our people … ” said Walker.

Leonard said the facilities particularly at Bacon and Phenix are not safe or up to the times.

“We live in a day and an age in which we see what is happening in the world around us,” said Leonard.

She said currently, there are children in used trailers behind Phenix Elementary who are exposed to the outside. “ … that’s just not acceptable, it’s not,” she said.

Leonard said the trailers were never meant to be a long-term solution.

She also said the children at Bacon do not have a way to have the full physical education they deserve.

“Every child in Charlotte County deserves a nice school,” Leonard said.

Talbott said there are many needs in the county and facilities have been put on the back burner for years.

“I’m tired of being talked down to … we have seven people on this school board who know what we need for these children, we know. We don’t need anyone to tell us what we need to do,” Talbott said.

Aspen/Phenix School Board Member Robert Johnson said something must be done to get the kids out of the trailers at Phenix Elementary.

“They’re made of nothing,” said Keysville School Board Member R.B. (Jay) George. He said in the event of an active shooter situation, the trailers could not be locked down and bullets could potentially penetrate the walls.

“I was elected to represent Phenix and that’s what I’m going to do,” said Johnson.

Leonard said the school board’s focus is on security and comfort.

“We’re not asking for the Taj Mahal. We’re asking for safety and security,” said Leonard.