CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A bipartisan South Carolina legislative delegation filed legislation that will dramatically change how Charleston County School District board members are elected.
The legislation would reform the process by which the School District Board of Trustees is elected. Lawmakers said this will make them more responsive to local parents and schools.
“Beginning with the 2020 general election, the nine members of the Charleston County School District must be elected from each of the same nine defined single-member election districts as are members of the Charleston County Council," the bill states. "The nine school district members’ numeric district designations shall match that of the corresponding county council district from which the school district board members are elected and a school district board member must be a qualified elector of the election district from which he is elected.”
The bill was filed in the house on Tuesday and sponsored by Represenatives Leon Stavrinakis, Peter McCoy, Mike Sottile, Robert Brown, William Cogswell, Nancy Mace, Lin Bennett, J.A. Moore, Krystle Matthews and Marvin Pendarvis.
“If the Charleston County Council single-member election district boundaries are amended or redrawn subsequent to the 2020 general election, the members of the Charleston County School District Board of Trustees must continue to be elected from the same nine single-member election districts in effect at the time of the 2020 general election,” the bill states.
It has support from members of the delegation in the Senate, too.
“My biggest concern is everybody who lives in my district, they know that I’m their senator. When they call me when they have an issue, I am to respond,” state Sen. Sandy Senn said. “The school board, because it’s not elected single member, you don’t really know who your school board member is. If you call and say, ‘Who’s my school board member?’ You’re going to get all of them, and that makes them field a little shielded.”
This legislation, if passed, would make each board member responsible for a certain area in Charleston County.
“The CCSD Board of Trustees, duly elected by voters countywide, are very conscientious as we carry out the duties of our office in accordance with the laws of this state,” CCSD Board Chair Eric Mack said. “Speaking as chairman, I find it very disappointing that some members of our elected legislative delegation are using this bill as an opportunity to punish the school board members for voting in a way that goes against their opinion. We the board members ran for office according to the established voting districts at the time to serve the students of Charleston County. If the law changes and we are forced to run from different election districts, that will not change the fact that we should place the needs of students above politics.”
It’s not the only bill the legislators are considering filing to make changes to the school district. Lawmakers wrote another piece of legislation that, 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 schools and magnet programs.
The board approved massive changes in November and December that include combining three North Charleston elementary schools and removing three grades from Buist Academy in downtown Charleston. On Monday, they approved a plan that will merge all West Ashley middle school students on to one campus.
“In West Ashley, they combined two schools, they want to combine two schools and do away with one. We were promised two schools in that referendum, so what they’re doing isn’t following their own rules. It’s got everyone in angst in what’s going to happen next year," Senn said. “The constituents are calling me very upset, very upset about all of their children. They don’t know where they’re going to go for school. They’re mashing some schools together. They’re closing some schools.”
Stavrinakis has led this effort.
“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,” Stavrinakis said in December when they started drafting the legislation. "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.”