Approximately 100 people attended the Marion County School Board's Community Forum held on May 3 at the National Guard Armory.
Superintendent Michael Day spoke and presented the board's plan for consolidating East and West Marion to the audience.
Then the floor opened up as County Athletic Director Anthony Dillon and former West Marion football coach Brad Duncan held the microphones for attendees to speak and ask questions.
Duncan started off the questions by asking if consolidation is a done deal. The answer from the board was that it is not a done deal, and the board has to vote on it.
Most of the people who spoke said they do not want their taxes to increase because they are overtaxed already and cannot afford to pay more.
"I'm not here as a supervisor," Eugene Green said."I'm here representing myself and my wife on these taxes. We have 14 pages of unpaid taxes in the newspaper. If this passes, we will have about 40 pages because people can't pay their taxes."
Green also added that "when this man (Day) has enough feathers in his cap, he will move on, and we will all be stuck with this tax increase."
At one point, the conversation became heated when it was pointed out that a child can go to Columbia Academy for $5,000 a year, so why does it take $11,000 to educate a child at a public school.
Someone yelled out asking how many chicken dinners had to be sold to help pay that tuition at CA.
One West Marion parent said that the baseball field at West Marion is the best because the parents came together and cooked a lot of chicken dinners to make it that way, as well as putting forth the work that was done on it. A group of fathers did back-breaking work most recently to stain the outfield fence.
Many stated that education is not being put at the forefront, and that the bond is all about athletics.
"I've subbed," Pam Moorehead said. "The schools aren't in that bad a shape. I urge people to vote no. The students must apply themselves."
David Stringer is against consolidation. He said that students will get lost at a big school, and things are better at small schools. He voiced concern about only having one football team.
"Coaches will put the best players on the field," one man replied. "It will teach kids to compete, and players will not get as tired having to play all positions and so much of the game."
Audience members requested that each school board member state their opinion on consolidation and the bond.
"It's necessary," Wali Bilal said. "It's going to cost. You don't get nothing for nothing."
"We cannot make changes without bond money, period," Sherrie Williams said. "It's everyone's right to have better schools. We don't have funds to have better academics for either school."
"I'm for it," Eric Hutto said. "We can't give these students what they need without it. We have one urinal for 60 kids. We have to be able to bring our schools up just for our county. We have a lunchroom with no wall."
"I'm for consolidation and the bond," Board member Larry Jenkins said. "It's what our children deserve. It's not about black or white. It's about our children. Yes, it's going to cost. Our children mean that much to me. I am willing to invest in our children. There have been no planned improvements since I was in school. Like our homes, if we don’t plan improvements, our houses fall."
Jenkins pointed out that all improvements have been the result of insurance payouts and not planning.
School board President Wendy Hammonds said she's for the bond issue.
"Our children deserve it. It's been way too long. Consolidation will be better for our kids," she said.
Many in attendance also questioned why so much of the bond was for athletics and not for academics.
Day responded that the bond is about education and that the whole experience matters.
Stephanie Buhrer had broken the parts of the bond into categories and pointed out that 50% of the bond was for extracurricular activities, 52% for athletics and 48% for academics. Buhrer questioned why the district could not have Stem labs and share them as they do the Votech.
Local realtor Fred Buhrer questioned whether there is an example of a school where it has worked to do what is planned. He also said that new residents and businesses want to know about taxes before anything else when considering a move.
Steve Horne disagreed, saying that the first question is, "what are the schools like?" and "what district is it in?"
"The conception now is that the Columbia School District is a step above the Marion County School District," Horne said. "Before you can educate them, you have to get them in the building. East Marion had about 40 seniors this year. You can't just leave them hanging out there."
One speaker said he was not there to diss East Marion, and someone on the other side of the room yelled that "it sounds like you are."
The question was asked how much money was spent for the study and for the rendering.
Day said between $10,000 and $20,000 was spent, and the board received bids from 30 architecture firms. He said that if the bond does not pass, the architecture firm does not get paid anything.
It was also questioned why the bond election had to be separate from the primary election on June 7, which would have saved the district about $20,000 for the separate election.
The answer was given that the bond needed to go ahead and be passed so work could begin in the summer because bids have to be taken on all work.
The question was raised several times about how many students in the East Marion school district actually attend Columbia Schools, and it was brought up that it would not take much more for East Marion to join the Columbia School District. Many wanted to know why the Marion County School District and the Columbia School District could not be combined.
One person from Improve said that everyone is separating East from West, and there is too much division among the groups.
In the end, everyone in attendance had an opinion and many were very vocal in the expression of those opinions.