Charleston Co. school leaders, lawmakers meet on pending changes

VIDEO: Charleston Co. school leaders, lawmakers meet on pending changes

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - There were tense moments and many questions Friday as Charleston county lawmakers voiced concerns to school district leaders about major changes planned for the district.

More than 100 parents attended the meeting as well.

County lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, said calls and emails from constituents, including parents and teachers who are confused and worried about recent proposals, prompted them to ask CCSD officials for a meeting to figure out what is going on.

One major hot topic involves wide-sweeping changes to magnet schools, which are some of the highest-caliber schools in the county and state.

The district is looking at limiting admissions to people who live in the constituent area of the school versus busing kids from all over the county to different magnet locations, CCSD spokesman Andy Pruitt said. The district also wants to open up spots for kids in neighborhoods around those schools and hopefully help diversify magnets.

But parents say CCSD is trying to fix something that’s not broken and that there has to be a better way to achieve diversity. While some parents suggest the plans came out of nowhere, the majority of school board members say it all stemmed from several long-term studies and plans to help the district. Some of the plans, they say, date back to a Harvard study in the 1990s.

Several legislators said the board should focus on low-performing schools and leave the magnets alone.

State Sen. Sandy Senn, who represents district 41 including Charleston and Dorchester Counties, raised her concerns to CCSD Board Chair Eric Mack. Senn said the district shouldn’t “kill the geese that are laying golden eggs.”

“They don’t even know where they’re going to send their children to school next year, whether the children will be separated from their friends,” Senn said. “They don’t if they should be saving money to send their kids to private school. Do you understand this whole process has everybody up in angst?”

“I understand that not everyone will agree with everything but I clearly do understand that hearing the voices of the parents is crucial and important,” Mack said. “You may not believe that the board does, but we do listen and I do listen. I feel that it’s important that we engage everybody as much as possible.”

The idea of communication and misinformation was a central theme of Friday’s meeting. With a lot of changes on the table, parents are not yet clear on how the changes could affect their children.

But the delegation sent a clear message to the school board.

“We need to slow this train down. It keeps changing in terms of information we get,” District 109 Rep. David Mack said.

“I am asking that Charleston County School District slow down,” District 99 Rep. Nancy Mace said.

“What I think we ought to do is slow down. I just think we need to pause,” District 42 Sen. Marlon Kimpson said.

“Stop and recalibrate, re-engage the public and the delegation,” District 119 Rep. Leon Stavrikanis said.

At the end of the meeting, the delegation unanimously approved a motion to formally ask, again, for the CCSD to pump the brakes. Mack said they will bring up that request Monday at the school board meeting.

“It gives us something to engage in conversation come Monday, to talk about whether or not we feel that we have adequately enough engaged the community and done the necessary research in moving forward, or do we feel that we do need to pause,” he said.

Superintendent Dr. Gerrita Postlewait said the district needs to implement carefully but urgently to help students who are failing.

The school board meeting is scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m. Monday.

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