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CCSD Board Renegades Return To Confront Budget
6/23/2016 1:05:26 PM

(l-r) Charleston County School Board members Rev. Chris Collins, Michael Miller & Rev. Eric Mack speaks with the media after walking out of a May 23 School Board Meeting. Photo: Tolbert Smalls
By Barney Blakeney

They’re back. Three Charleston County School Board members who walked out of the board’s May 23 regular meeting in protest of continuous disparities they say led to the discriminatory closing of predominantly black Lincoln High School returned to active participation in board activities last week.

Rev. Chris Collins, Rev. Eric Mack and Michael Miller said Lincoln’s closure was the tipping point in a pattern of practices that unfairly targeted predominantly Black schools for adverse discrimination.

At the start of the May 23 meeting, they walked out saying they no longer would participate in board meetings because of the board’s disparate actions. But they returned to the board’s regular meeting last week.

While on hiatus, they met with Superintendent Dr. Gerrita Postlewait and submitted a list of concerns that included reopening Lincoln Middle-High School at the current location until a proposed new school is built in Awendaw, hiring qualified Black principals, recruiting and maintaining black teachers, realistically addressing the district’s achievement gap between black and white students, adopting a mandate for black business participation in contract and consultant procurement, hiring a chief diversity officer and support staff, conducting a forensic audit of capital projects listed in the 2010 building program and electing a new board chair.

None of that happened, but they participated in the June 13 meeting because they wanted to be at the table as decisions are made, Mack said. Included among those decisions are budget issues relative to Lincoln’s closure. The trio last week did get a concession from the majority board that will push forward plans to develop building designs for a new school facility near Awendaw in Lincoln’s Constituent Dist. 1 attendance zone.

Collins said the May 23 walkout was staged to communicate to other board members and the community in general the trio’s sincerity about their support for unbiased allocation of resources to all students and schools in the district. “We left and came back for the same reasons,” Collins said, “to show respect and support for all families.”

He said the walkout accomplished several things - that the board and community realize the members are serious about their representation, it shows they are united, that they won’t back down and that they won’t tolerate business as usual. He thinks the walkout galvanized community support, Collins said.

That support may be essential as the board passed a 2016-2017 $429 million annual budget. While the new school for the Lincoln area likely won’t be constructed before 2021, land purchase for the construction should be completed this summer. But more importantly, the board members’ return to active participation allows them to focus on changes to the district’s literacy program.

Collins and Mack said perceptions there will be cuts to the district’s literacy program are inaccurate. Some elements of the program will be eliminated because they have been ineffective and the funds for those will be shifted to other components that are more productive, Mack said.
Collins said he disagrees with Superintendent Dr. Gerrita Postlewait that some components of the literacy program were not working, but supports her recommendations for change. The commercial property tax increase included in the new budget guarantees programs won’t be slashed, Collins assures.

Board member Tom Ducker clarified misperceptions about cuts to the literacy budget saying Postlewait will move literacy resources into classrooms under the new budget structure as opposed to transporting certain students to literacy academies. The new structure offers more students the resources in their classrooms, he said.

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