Lawmakers ask for investigation into CCSD school merger vote

VIDEO: Lawmakers ask for investigation into CCSD school merger vote

CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - Two state lawmakers have sent letters to the South Carolina Department of Revenue this week asking for an investigation into a recent controversial decision by the Charleston County School District Board to merge middle schools in West Ashley.

State Rep. Leon Stavrinakis and state Sen. Sandy Senn want to learn if the school board “overstepped its authority to remove a project approved by voters in a county referendum,” Senn wrote.

She also sent a similar request to the state’s attorney general.

The school board members approved a West Ashley middle school merger on Monday that would put all the area’s sixth through eighth graders on one campus. This went back on a previous decision made just two months before that put sixth graders on one campus and seventh and eighth graders on another.

The soon-to-be-opened C.E. Williams Middle School, being built next to West Ashley High, was a project approved by voters in a 2014 referendum that lawmakers argue was funded by an extension of a one-cent local sales tax.

“The decision not to move forward with the West Ashley Middle School plans as proposed in the ballot question would place unnecessary strain on the facilities at C.E. Williams Middle School by adding an additional 600 students to a facility only built for 900," Stavrinakis wrote. “Many in the West Ashley community do not feel the district has engaged with them enough before making such a sudden and drastic change to the plan they approved in 2014.”

He then asked the department to investigate, a decision which doesn’t have support from CCSD Board Vice Chair Kate Darby.

“We don’t receive enough funding to cover all of those items, so at a certain point the board prioritizes those. So, we draw a line at how much funding we get, and the projects underneath the line usually are not funded in that cycle. They then move up for the next cycle,” Darby said. “In 2014, the West Ashley middle school design was under the line for funding, so we haven’t received funding for that project.”

Senn also wrote a letter to the state’s attorney general asking for his opinion on this question.

“In exchange for tax dollars, the voters were promised two new schools in West Ashley, which is in my district. The terms of the referendum were strict and not ambiguous,” Senn wrote. “The only expressed way the board could alter the projects within the referendum was if it ran out of money. Funding is not currently an issue, yet the board approved combining two West Ashley schools.”

This week, lawmakers also started voting on legislation that would dramatically change how Charleston County School District board members are elected. They’re also considering filing 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.

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