CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - A bipartisan South Carolina legislative delegation is planning to draft legislation that will dramatically change the Charleston County School District.
The legislation, if passed by the end of this school year, would retroactively make the school board’s recent votes on broad-sweeping changes void. The legislation would require public approval for the closing or merging of popular schools and magnet programs. Two other bills would reform the process by which the School District Board of Trustees is elected to make them more responsive to local parents and local schools.
“Over the past weeks and months, parents and taxpayers have contacted us out of concern, desperation and in some cases outright anger, at the direction and lack of responsiveness of the school board," State Rep. Leon Stavrinakis said in a statement. "Legislators and parents have taken all possible steps to work with the board but they do not seem interested in our overtures. When government will not respond to its citizens, the best path forward is to return power to the people themselves. This legislation does just that by giving parents a direct voice in the future of their children’s schools and those that run them.”
“Recent proposals by CCSD jeopardize public school choice options for many families in Charleston County," State Rep. Peter McCoy said in a statement Tuesday. "Charleston is a leader in public school choice. Many of our full or partial magnet programs are among the very best our state and county have to offer. Destabilizing them hurts students and our community as a whole. Parents deserve more of a say and we intend to give it to them.”
The board approved changes in November and December that include combining three North Charleston elementary schools and removing three grades from Buist Academy in downtown Charleston.
“We have implored the board to pause and listen to the concerns of the many and not just the few," State Rep. Wendell Gilliard said. "They have refused to do so but this legislation will ensure those voices are heard.”
”I generally don’t meddle with school board matters but the policies under consideration impact a significant number of the schools in District 42," State Sen. Marlon Kimpson said. "We have to hit pause when the district freely admits that it is soliciting bids from outside parties to run our schools. Based on the volume of calls I’ve received in opposition, I think the better course is to slow this train down to make sure that these policies are narrowly tailored to achieve the intended results and that the community is fully engaged, fully informed and has their voices heard.”
Other early sponsors of the bipartisan legislation from Charleston County include Rep. Lin Bennett, Rep. William Cogswell, Rep. Krystle Matthews, Rep. Robert Brown, Sen. Sandy Senn, Rep. Nancy Mace, Rep. Mike Sottile, Rep. David Mack, Rep. Marvin Pendarvis and Rep. J. A. Moore.
The lawmakers are still coming up with language in this bill that would require more public input when the board is considering changes that include merging schools and closing them. Any current programs already in place would not be effected.
Charleston County School District Board Chair Rev. Dr. Eric Mack released the following statement:
The CCSD Board of Trustees has spent the majority of this year deliberating these important issues, and in the final analysis, the supermajority of the Board simply voted to put into action the changes which we believe will make the greatest long-range difference for all the students that we serve. The decisions were not made for popularity or for retribution.
The Board appreciates the Delegation members’ interest in these important education issues, and we value their input. We trust that the Delegation members will act in the best interest of all CCSD students as they deliberate on the important educational issues during the upcoming legislative session.