By Melinda Hamilton, League of Women Voters of the Charleston Area President
Consider a revolution. It’s time.
Start by thinking of 113,000 children, the area’s economy and one of the toughest public service jobs around. What’s the connection? The 113,000 children are students in public schools in Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties. Sooner or later they will fill most of the jobs here and become part of the leadership in this community. It will be up to them to vote as informed citizens. They are the future of our democracy.
Now it’s up to adults to tackle the importance of a nonpartisan election that has a profound effect on these children and the future. The 2018 school board election which will fill about half of the regular school board seats in the Tri-county area.
Beyond the regular school board seats, there are 26 positions on Charleston County’s eight constituent school boards. Those boards are responsible for student discipline and transfers, attendance lines and various recommendations to the Charleston County Consolidated School Board.
There is no question school board service is a tough duty lacking glamour and often shrouded by a fair amount of conflict. It is a public trust bearing responsibility without end. Most importantly, it is the watchdog ensuring that students get the best education for the tax dollars spent.
Why do we need a revolution?
The reasons are countless. A random precinct view of the 2016 election shows that in some cases about 60 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. About 30 to 35 percent of that number ignored the school board election. The League of Women Voters believes there is a good chance these numbers are emblematic.
Whatever other educational opportunities there may be, the vast majority of our children go to public schools. According to the National Center for Education Statistics about 66,000 students attend roughly 400 private schools in South Carolina. Approximately 746,000 children attend public schools in this state.
The importance of public education touches everyone. The Avery Center’s State of Racial Disparities Report notes that “education is used as a tool in real estate development and job placement, with developers and companies citing dismal education statistics as rationale for not building or investing in certain local communities.”
Where do we begin? First, the League thanks those who serve or have served on local school boards. Second, Election Day, Tuesday, November 6 is our target date. This is the time to prepare. Neither the League nor its partners will endorse candidates, but instead support helping all candidates and creating a greater awareness of the importance of school board service and public education.
The League and its partners will host an open community forum, the School Board Project: Become a Voice for Our Children Saturday, February 24, 10AM to noon at the Lonnie Hamilton Public Services Building, 4045 Bridge View Drive, North Charleston 29405. The event is free.
The keynote speaker is Executive Director of the South Carolina School Board Association Scott Price. Also speaking will be former school board members Kathy Schwalbe of Berkeley County, Ruth Jordan of Charleston County and Fran Townsend of Dorchester County. Space is limited and those who want to attend are asked to RSVP at http://www.lwvcharleston.org/school_board_2018.html.
In the months ahead, the League and its partners will continue to reach into the community to create a strong network on behalf of public education and the school board elections. The League will schedule candidate forums and use Vote411.org, an online tool, that will list every candidate in the Lowcountry’s 2018 ballot. It will also list questions posed to the candidates and their responses, which the candidates will have provided to the Vote411 site.
The need to provide high quality education for all the children in our public schools has never been greater. Almost half of these children come from low income homes. Public education is their best and perhaps only opportunity to break through the barrier of poverty.
While school boards alone cannot solve every educational challenge, those elected are leaders whose importance on the long journey to educational equity and excellence must be recognized and celebrated. There is no better celebration of that fact than beginning now with a revolution in community dialogue and energy dedicated to preparing for November’s school board election.