By Barney Blakeney
The saying goes things not only must be right, they have to look right. When the four Blacks on Charleston County Consolidated School Board took the initiative to approve an increase in board members’ compensation, they failed to make sure things look right. The approval was made at the board’s July 17 meeting when two of its nine members were absent. The four Blacks who held the majority at the meeting carried the proposal as two whites opposed it and a third abstained. Essentially, the vote was carried along racial lines – as many CCSD Board votes often do.
But despite the race-based character of CCSD policy and practice so pronounced in the district, the increase in pay initiative has drawn extraordinary backlash. Local state legislators are challenging the legality of the more than $14,000 pay raise and at least one constituent has filed a lawsuit to stop it. But the prevailing board members remain unmoved from their position.
New board member Kevin Hollinshead, elected to the board last November, proposed the pay raise. He said the issue of increasing compensation for school board members who earn $25 per meeting plus mileage and per diem expenses, has been ongoing for years. Hollinshead said, like most board members, he spends 20-30 hours per week attending to CCSD related issues. Committee meetings sometimes last all day and preparing for meetings take hours more. For working people, service on the board costs them money, he said.
But that goes with the territory. Board members know what’s expected when they run for the elected position. Having that knowledge makes the board’s increase immediately retroactive to June 1 is unsettling to some constituents. The uncertain source of funding for the increase that includes a $7,000 raise for constituent school board members is more unsettling. The pay increases is estimated to cost the district an additional $500,000 this fiscal year. In 2015 the district discovered an $18 million budget shortfall. Funding cuts in various areas since then have been implemented to cover the shortfall. Hollinshead said he’s unconcerned about finding money to pay the increases. The district routinely finds funding for its top heavy administration and consultants, he said.
“Everybody’s trying to make an issue of a non-issue,” he said. People who earn six-figure salaries are insensitive to the needs and challenges faced by others who earn less, but are committed to public service. The previous pay structure prevents many who want to serve from doing so, he said.
Veteran school board member Michael Miller, usually a fiscal advocate and voice of reason among board members, said he feels opposition to the pay raises is based more on how things were done than what was done. He justified the prevailing members’ action noting prior legal counsel said the proposal was in an ambiguously grey area that doesn’t disallow the pay raises. He responded to critics of the process saying prior attempts by State Rep. Wendell Gilliard to pursue a legislative course failed.
Since June 1 Miller said he’s been compensated less than $100 for attending three meetings for which it took several hours each to prepare. The previous compensation level was set in 1967, he said. CCSD has some 80 schools. Districts its size pay board members comparably to the level adopted, he said.