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Budget Shortfall Plus Same Board Chair Equals No Change For Black Students
11/24/2015 2:09:42 PM

By Barney Blakeney

How is it the comedy duo Laurel and Hardy used to put it, “What a fine mess you’ve gotten us into now?” It looks like that’s what the folks at Charleston County School Board should be saying to its staff. Oh, but then, the board is part of the comedy team.

Last week I asked some folks what impact the resignation of Charleston County School district Chief Financial Officer Michael Bobby and the re-election of county school board chair Cindy Bohn Coats will have on the education of Black students. Yeah, yeah, yeah - some say those things have nothing specifically to do with black or white. The reality is everything has to do with black and white.

I was taught starting out in this business, that a Black reporter has an obligation to do more than just tell the story, we must be advocates for our community. But a good reporter is bound by other obligations as well, among them the obligation to be factual and objective.

This space gives me the opportunity to write what I think. With news stories I must write what others think. A lot of the times that’s not the story that should be told. We live in a time when ‘CYB’ (Cover Your Behind) is the method of operation. Don’t rock the boat and don’t jeopardize your assets.

I sought to pursue the Michael Bobby story because I thought my readers needed some insight on how the CCSD chief moneyman’s resignation in the face of an $18 million budget shortfall will affect Black students who already get the short end of the stick in a school district that historically has shortchanged Black kids. The Coats story fell in my lap. The combined story took on an added dimension about the district’s leadership.

It was hard getting people to speak up about those issues although we all know the deal - Cindy Coats and Michael Bobby are just the head honchos on a runaway train. One is the engineer and the other the conductor, but neither have any say about where the train goes, who rides or what kind of service they get.

I spent a couple of days running down folks to interview for that story. School board member Rev. Chris Collins gave me some good stuff, but it wasn’t until late Tuesday night I finally got a return call from my man, Luther Seabrook, who as usual “put it where the chickens can get it” as Columbia Sen. Kaye Patterson used to say.

I had already written the Bobby/Coats story and was trying to finish the election results piece that had to be completed as we held the presses, but I took the time to listen to Mr. Seabrook. The guy tells it like it t-i-tiz and though I had filed school district story, I wanted to hear Mr. Seabrook’s opinion.

A problem was inevitable because Mike Bobby was torn is so many different ways, it almost was predictable he’d lose track of stuff. Seabrook said. But then, CCSD doesn’t care about $18 million. That’s chump change in a district with an annual budget of over $1 billion. CCSD spends that much money handing out bonuses in the form of extra pay to specialists, consultants and overpaid administrators. Apparently that’s what happened.

I’m glad to hear new superintendent Gerrita Postlewait is reducing the district’s top heavy administration. Of course, I have no doubt she’ll create positions for some other white folks. The runaway train that is Charleston County School District is a cash cow for everyone from contractors to pencil pushers. And white folks always find ways for other white folks to make money.

Seabrook doesn’t think that’s going to end with Postlewait’s administration nor will the district’s special interest budgetary activities stop as a result of the lucrative audit contract handed to Glenn Steigman, the guy just named interim chief financial officer. Can anyone say, “show me the money?”

Black students in Charleston County will continue to get inferior education regardless who is school board chair or what budget dynamics develop, Seabrook said, because Black folks can’t pick the folks who really run the district. Black folks have no chance to elect school board members who are not pre-cleared by white folks and we’re not a force in the economic engine that drives this community, he said.

Single member district elections for Charleston County School Board is one step in the right direction, but that’s unlikely because that deck has been stacked with palatable minority representatives who understand what side on which their bread is buttered, Seabrook said. They won’t go against the grain and their presence justifies the at-large election method.

So what’s the impact of the Bobby/Coats dynamics? None. No change. That train has left the station.

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