This is a tale of two schools, two school districts and two superintendents who share a border and a view that a new vision is needed to remedy the glaring inequities in their Lexington County classrooms.
About 25 miles separate Swansea High School from River Bluff High School. But the two schools – one built in 1976, the other in 2013 – are light years removed in terms of facilities and opportunities they can offer.
The schools, neighbors in Lexington 4 and Lexington 1, are poster children for the complex debate going on in the South Carolina Legislature over how best to fund public schools.
It is a debate that has emerged out of a 22-year-old lawsuit brought by rural districts, including Lexington 4, that have a limited tax base and pockets of poverty. Lexington 4, home to Swansea High, was one of the original plaintiffs in Abbeville School District v. State of South Carolina and the only Midlands district to be included.
“We all want what’s best for our children,” said Linda Lavender, Lexington 4’s superintendent. “We do not, by any means, want to take anything from anybody else.
“It’s about bringing everybody up, about bringing the whole state up.”
But the best in each of the state’s 84 school districts has been shaped over time by economics, jobs, race, the dynamics of an industrial tax base and loyalty to the way things have always been.
Add to that the complexities and unevenness of local property taxation rules and changes made by the state Legislature to education formulas over two decades, and even the most visionary of thinkers can wind up in a confusing thicket.
Lexington 1 Superintendent Karen C. Woodward, presiding over one of the more prosperous districts and some of the state’s best high schools, said the issue requires long-range solutions rather than short-term remedies.
“What we really need to do is to decide what it takes for every child in South Carolina to have a 21st century education and then plan backward,” Woodward said.
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