Senate set to take up bill to allow governor to remove school board members at will

Published: Feb. 2, 2022 at 2:18 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 2, 2022 at 6:18 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The South Carolina State Senate will be considering the final version of a bill that would expand the governor’s ability to remove sitting school board members from office. Senate Bill 203 was approved by the House last week and will now go back to the senate for a third and final reading.

The bill, first introduced last year, is being sponsored by Senator Greg Hembree (R), Senator Penry Gustafson (R), and Summerville Senator Sean Bennett (R). It would allow the governor to remove a sitting school board member for acts of malfeasance, chronic absenteeism, conflicts of interest, among other accusations.

The governor already has the ability to remove elected officials, including school board members, by executive order, however that constitutional power can only be used after an indictment. This is how Gov. Henry McMaster was able to remove Barbara Crosby from the Dorchester District Two School Board in September after she was indicted for leaving her grandchildren in a running car during a meeting.

Senate Bill 203 would expand the power to mirror that of his ability to remove appointment members of boards and commissions. Richland Representative Wendy Brawley spoke out against the bill last week during debate, calling it an overreach in power.

“If we agree to this, it’s broadening [his power] and saying in the case of school boards we’re going to give the governor that absolute power,” Brawley said. “I don’t know what it is with the hate that goes on for school districts and school boards. . . if you have a problem with your school district or school board member, it’s called an election. That’s how you fix that.”

Former Charleston County School Board member Kevin Hollinshead says he supports the bill. He argues there’s almost no oversight for sitting school board members.

“I think it’s an option to have on the table. You know, again, as you see, we have people that will say differently, but I see public corruption,” Hollinshead said. “In the last eight years in school board races become very controversial.”

Right now, the only way to remove a school board member is by election or if criminal charges have been brought against them. Hollinshead says there are plenty of scenarios in which a board member isn’t doing anything illegal but is not acting in the interest of the public.

“I am concerned about, like currently, board action that is not in the best interest of parents and the community and private entities that get involved in school board elections. It takes the voice away from the people,” Hollinshead said. “An avenue for the public to notify the governor they feel like something is wrong, then I am for that because we do have to have checks and balances.”

Before the governor could remove school board members, he is required to inform them in writing and allow them to respond.

The bill heads to the senate for final approval next but has not yet been scheduled.

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