By Diette Courrégé
Some black community
leaders say they fear that the Charleston County School Board is poised to break another promise to them, but one board member said that's not their intention.
The board on Monday plans to discuss the location of the proposed Lowcountry Tech program, which is slated to share space with the Charleston Charter School for Math & Science in the former Rivers Middle School building.
The board already has set aside at least $25 million to make the needed repairs so students can move into the building.
The issue is that district leaders gave the community their word in 2005 that they would start a vocational program for downtown students at that campus. Since then, they've done little more than roughly outline what the program would include, and no money has been devoted to making that happen.
During that same time, the charter school opened and is using mobile units on the Rivers campus until the building's repairs are finished.
Some black leaders, such as Dot Scott, president of the Charleston chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, have said they fear that the charter school's organizers want it to be a privately run, publicly funded, segregated school -- an assertion repeatedly denied by the school -- and they think a new proposal to relocate the program is an attempt to ensure that more black students aren't on the Rivers campus.
"That has always been the agenda -- that those African-American children will not be at the school," she said. "They are seen as problematic. The promises made to African-Americans mean nothing."
Board member Gregg Meyers initiated the item being put on the board's agenda after charter school supporters told him that the space allocated to them -- 60 percent of the Rivers building -- likely won't be enough to house all their students.
That conversation made him think about Lowcountry Tech, and he said he worries about it disappearing if there's not enough space for the charter school and that program.
Meyers doesn't want the district's leadership to abandon Lowcountry Tech and wants to ensure that it has an alternative place for the program.
"It's about preserving Lowcountry Tech," he said. The agenda of Monday's meeting said the board will discuss and "possibly take action" on placing the tech program at Burke.
No one from the charter school suggested this idea, Meyers said, and he's not "drunk the pro- or anti-charter school Kool-Aid." Severe budget cuts have prohibited the development of the program, and he said he can't see the rationale in the district not giving the charter school space they need because of a theoretical program.
Board Chairwoman Ruth Jordan said the board has made a commitment to house the charter school and program in the Rivers building, and there is room for both.
She said she thinks the charter school has been unable to recruit as many white students as it wants because some families worry about the school sharing space with Lowcountry Tech.
Those people don't want any more black students in the building beyond those who already attend the charter school, she said. This past school year, 53 percent of the school's students were black, and 43 percent were white.
She's been told by at least one group that it would fight the district's proposed 1 percent sales tax increase if the board moves Lowcountry Tech from the Rivers campus.
"The board wanting to go back on its promise and commitment is ridiculous," she said.
Reach Diette Courrégé at 937-5546.