Fraser Elementary School supporters continued fighting to keep their downtown school open by marching Monday to the Charleston County School Board meeting.
The school board decided later that night to save $1.7 million by furloughing its teachers and guidance counselors on June 8 and 9 if lawmakers make such action legal.
Fraser Elementary's closing and the teacher furloughs result from the district's budget crisis. The district has to make up $13.3 million in mid-year state funding cuts, and officials project they will be short by $28 million next budget year.
Money is so tight that a request for the board to pay a $300 registration fee for one of its members to attend the South Carolina. Association of Public Charter Schools conference later this week in North Charleston was voted down 5-4. Board members Chris Fraser, Toya Green, Ruth Jordan, Gregg Meyers and Ann Oplinger voted against spending the money for the conference.
"I don't think we should spend a nickel on ourselves," Meyers said after the board voted to approve the teacher furloughs.
Before the meeting began, more than 60 Fraser Elementary parents and children and area residents held signs and chanted "Save Fraser School" as they walked with police escorts down America Street to the district office on Calhoun Street.
Many were concerned with the prospect of their children moving twice in one school year, and they asked to stay put until the new Sanders-Clyde Elementary School building is complete. Some Fraser students will be assigned this fall to Sanders-Clyde, and that school is in a temporary space until its new building is finished in the middle of next school year. That means some students would move to the Archer building in the fall and again to the new building in one year.
"I feel that they really think they can do anything to our children," said Latonya Gamble, a parent of three Fraser Elementary children who organized Monday's march. "It's just like no thought went into it."
School Superintendent Nancy McGinley told the board that keeping Fraser open for half the school year would involve hiring a principal and teachers for half the year and then reorganizing students to send them elsewhere. That would be more disruptive than students starting the school year with one teacher and moving into a new building later that year with that same teacher, McGinley said. Other schools, such as Laurel Hill Primary, have gone through similar mid-year moves, she said.
On the furlough issue, board members were not eager to approve the district's recommendation but said this was a last resort to find savings. The vote was 8-1, with member Elizabeth Kandrac dissenting. The board already approved up to four-day furloughs for other district employees, including administrators, to compensate for the mid-year cuts.
June 8 is supposed to be a half-day for students, so if the General Assembly makes the change possible, students' last day of school would be June 5. June 9 was a teacher workday.
District Chief Financial and Operations Officer Mike Bobby didn't expect to request more teacher furloughs. McGinley said the year's final instructional days would be eroded because schools must prepare to close for summer during that time.
"It does impact instruction, but we have no choice," she said.
In other business, the board: accepted the vote of the Academic Magnet High community regarding its new building; hired interim Principal Diane Ross to be principal at Goodwin Elementary and Francine Mitchell, an assistant principal at Pinckney Elementary, to be principal at James B. Edwards Elementary next year.