By Barney Blakeney
Charleston County School Board’s December approval of changes that merges some specialty schools provoked Charleston County Legislative Delegation intervention. School officials say they made the decisions to address long-standing inequities in the system. Legislators say they’re intervening in response to constituents. The division between the two entities is as gapping as that between the constituents themselves.
In a published editorial, CCSD Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait said some of the state’s very best schools and some of the state’s lowest performing schools literally a few miles apart are separated by geography, history and socioeconomic factors that are complex and deep-rooted. The issues presented by this dichotomy must be addressed, she said.
Board members in November said they would respond to recommendations developed after more than a year of analysis and feedback from initiatives including the Shared Future Project, the AdvancEd Accreditation Report, the Clemson University Diversity Study, Mission Critical Action Groups and community listening sessions. In December, the board approved many of them. Most outstanding were recommendations to merge academically elite Buist Academy and Memminger Elementary School and to allow some 15 schools to hire privately owned administrations.
The deep-rooted history of segregation and inequality Postlewait wrote about surfaced after some influential constituents challenged the changes. Legislative delegation members responded to those challenges. When the delegation’s attempt to get board members to back off making changes failed, in January the delegation introduced legislation that would unseat the board. The bill already passed by the House, if passed by the Senate, means CCSD board members in November would be re-elected from single member districts yet to be created.
Spearheading the legislation is House Dist. 119 Rep. Leon Stavrinakis. He said the delegation’s role in the controversy has been a little exaggerated and that delegation members only are responding to their constituents. Like Charleston County School District, the delegation is racially diverse, Stavrinakis said, and all its members are getting the same feedback form their constituents. The delegation’s position on school district changes has been unanimous.
The bottom line, Stavrinakis said, is the delegation wants to see improvements to the district go forward equitably, but the changes to be implemented were developed haphazardly. The CCSD board has not been responsive to constituents so the delegation moved forward with the legislation, Stavrinakis said.
Board member Todd Garrett on Tuesday said constituent engagement is what’s driving the board’s decisions. The recommendations are the result of that engagement, he said. “The delegation has important stuff to do in Columbia,” said Garrett. “I don’t see why they want to become school board members.” He cautioned that gerrymandered single member districts already are detrimental to constituents. They may also be detrimental to schools, he said.