SC lawmaker files bill to establish North Charleston School District

A state lawmaker is proposing a bill that would remove North Charleston from the Charleston County School District and create a new district.
Published: Feb. 22, 2023 at 10:26 AM EST|Updated: Feb. 22, 2023 at 6:54 PM EST
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NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A state lawmaker is proposing a bill that would remove North Charleston from the Charleston County School District and create a new district.

District 113 Rep. Marvin Pendarvis filed the bill Wednesday afternoon, saying that needs are not being met in the city of North Charleston.

“We’re here because we care about the quality of education in our schools,” Pendarvis said. “We’re here because the city of North Charleston, there’s a number of underperforming schools that lie within the City of North Charleston. We’re here for good reason, and I hope through collaboration and continuing the conversation we’ll be able to get something done.”

State law lays out how school districts can be formed and broken up.

According to 59-17-20, only an act from the state legislature or by authorization of the county boards of education can break up a district. Even then, the boards of education still need to meet certain conditions.

In a statement from the office of Attorney General Alan Wilson those conditions are as follows:

In (b), both districts involved would have to have a petition signed by at least four-fifths of the registered voters in the district. In (c), the districts would need only one-third of the voters to sign a petition but would then also have to have a vote on it called by the county board of education.

Earlier in the day, North Charleston’s mayor confirmed the city is exploring what would be required to withdraw schools in the city from the Charleston County School District.

Mayor Keith Summey said on Wednesday morning North Charleston City Council will explore breaking away from the school district to create their own.

“I think council is concerned about the number of failing schools that we have and what we can do generate more opportunity for the kids coming up in North Charleston,” he said. “It’s not anything that’s in concrete. It’s something that we’re looking at the possibility of.”

The effort, he says, is in a research phase to determine if the idea of pulling schools from the Charleston County School District is feasible, adding it would not be a “fast-paced” project.

Summey said he believes the city contributes more than what they are getting from the school district. He said the majority of failing schools in the district are in North Charleston.

“A community, at the end of the day, is only as strong as the education we can provide for our children, and we just want to make sure that our kids are getting the top chance that they can to get that education,” he said.

Summey said his vision would be for the schools to become a department within the city. He says he believes it would ultimately take a voter referendum, likely in 2024, for the change to happen.

North Charleston Mayor Pro Tem Jerome Heyward said he does not see one member on council not standing behind mayor in support of this.

“The city of North Charleston has been left out of the equation,” Heyward said. “Academic wise, we suffered over here because 30 of our schools are failing. It’s time for us to fix our schools.”

Summey said he has not yet heard from the school district, adding he would like to sit down with them.

“We’re just interested in making sure that children in North Charleston have the same opportunities as children in the entire county to get the best possible education that they can, and that’s not to say that the school district is not making effort,” Summey said. “It’s saying we don’t believe that effort to date has been successful.”

Charleston County School Board Chair Pam McKinney says she has not heard a single word from Summey or the city since she took office. She claims she learned of the mayor’s plan from news coverage.

“CCSD is proud to serve students from every corner of Charleston County,” McKinney said. “It is a priority for the board to ensure every child has access to a high-quality education. North Charleston students deserve a great education and that is exactly what we are working to deliver.”

The Charleston County School District provided a response to the city’s plans, saying the proposal to withdraw would duplicate administrative costs and result in less funding per pupil.

Mayor Keith Summey’s proposal to withdraw North Charleston schools from the Charleston County School District (CCSD) and instead house them in a department within the City of North Charleston would fail students. Such would duplicate administrative costs and result in less funding per pupil for both academic support and capital improvement.

Mayor Summey’s assertion that the City contributes more than what it receives from CCSD is untrue. In fact, North Charleston has historically received well above the CCSD average funding for construction and facilities maintenance.

North Charleston’s schools currently account for 30.32% of the District’s total student population yet receive approximately 35.6% of funds allocated for schools. In addition, the average budgeted per-pupil allocation in FY2023 for North Charleston schools was $16,645.18 compared to that for all other CCSD schools at $14,171.06; isolating North Charleston’s schools served through Acceleration Schools boasts a $19,532.61 per pupil allocation.

Claims that academic efforts in North Charleston schools have not been successful are also misleading. Most recently, for example, three North Charleston schools were removed from the state improvement designation list while others made significant gains.

Rather than benefiting students, withdrawing schools from CCSD would exacerbate educational disparities between geographic areas that CCSD has worked to address. Likewise, the assertion that creating a smaller district would ensure children in North Charleston have greater opportunities is simply misguided. Smaller schools and smaller districts have historically been less-able to offer such access and opportunity.

The District calls on Mayor Summey to address his concerns directly with CCSD leadership so that adults can avoid negative outcomes for students, parents, and educators. The Mayor has not reached out to the District directly since February 2022, after which he and Superintendent Kennedy met with other District and City officials.

The city refutes this, claiming the mayor reached out in May 2022 about an educational program.

Summey reaffirmed Wednesday morning he has not yet decided if he will seek re-election but expects to do so within the next 30 days.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.