Group voices concerns with school system

Published 11:51 am Monday, September 23, 2013

Parents from across Butler County met Sunday to voice their concerns over the direction they feel the county’s public school system is heading.

Parents from across Butler County met Sunday to voice their concerns over the direction they feel the county’s public school system is heading.

Parents from across Butler County met Sunday to voice their concerns over the direction they feel the county’s public school system is heading.

More than 40 people attended the meeting, which was held at Beeland Park, hoping to have their concerns addressed by members of the Butler County Board of Education.

However, no members of the board attended the meeting, which was organized by concerned parents. Superintendent Darren Douthitt was also absent.

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Brandon Sellers, who helped organize the meeting, said that Douthitt, as well as board members Joe Lisenby and Linda Hamilton, had communicated that they would be unable to attend the meeting due to previous engagements.

Other board members either expressed that they would be in attendance or did not respond to invitations to attend.

Hamilton said she learned about the meeting Saturday night, and was unable to rearrange her schedule.

“I told them I was willing to schedule another time,” Hamilton said. “I welcome input from all of our citizens, especially those that are concerned about our children. I think them getting together to share ideas with the board is great, and I look forward to receiving another invitation to sit down with them and talk.”

“I’m very disappointed in these empty chairs,” said Dale Gates, pointing to the chairs set aside for board members. “That speaks volumes to me. We pay them to be here. It’s time to vote the board out.”

Chad Edwards agreed that maybe it’s time for a change.

“I think we should turn this group into a search committee since none of the elected officials came,” Edwards said. “We need to start thinking about what we want in a school board member, put those qualifications down on paper, and then go out and find that person.”

While the goal of the meeting was to be able voice the group’s concerns to the board, it was also meant to provide an outlet to share ideas on ways parents and community members can help improve the school system, which has lost more than 230 students and 18 teachers in the last four years.

The decline in enrollment impacts the funding the school system receives. Earlier this month, officials with the school system said that for the third straight year the system will be facing a budget deficit.

“Do we give up if no one comes? We’ve got to stop preaching to the choir and start singing,” said Allison Upshaw, who moderated the meeting.

Several parents said they felt a lack of parent involvement is an issue facing the school system.

“We need more parent involvement, and it needs to start at the grassroots level,” Sellers said. “We can talk about changing the board and the superintendent, and I do believe there are some changes that need to be made, but we’ve got to start by getting more people involved in our schools if we want to make a difference.”

Sellers has approached Greenville High School administrators about forming an alumni association. The association would be a non-profit and the dues collected would be used to benefit current students at the school.

“We have some incredible graduates,” Sellers said. “There are a lot of people that have gone through our school system that can give back to the school and to our community, and help motivate our students.”

Sellers also suggested that an association made up of people from the schools in Greenville, Georgiana and McKenzie be created.

“We are all in this system together,” he said.

Matt Elliott pointed out that the perception of a struggling school system has far-reaching impact on the community.

“If we don’t have a strong education system, we’re not going to attract businesses to the area, which creates jobs that we need,” he said. “If we don’t have jobs, poverty is going to increase and with that crime goes up. Nobody wants that. That’s why it’s so important that we have a strong school system.”

Other concerns shared at the meeting included declining enrollment numbers, possible school consolidation, turnover among teachers, and lack of participation in PTA organizations.

Wayne Boswell, a retired teacher and member of the Butler County Retired Teachers Association, said the school system is everyone’s responsibility.

“The school system is everybody’s,” Boswell said. “We all need to be involved.”

Attempts to contact Douthitt and members of the Board of Education were unsuccessful.

The Butler County Board of Education will hold a regular meeting Tuesday at 6 p.m. The meeting will be held at the Central Office Boardroom located at 949 Oglesby Street.