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Single Member District Is No Cure All

By Beverly Gadson-Birch

Temperatures boiled over at Monday night’s heated meeting on single member District. Charleston County School Board member Kevin Hollingshead, an organizer of the meeting and vocal advocate for equity, said the meeting was called to receive input on a recent move by Charleston County Legislation Delegation to slow Superintendent Postlewait and the Board’s direction to overhaul the educational system. After decades of operating a dual system that has failed to educate students equitably, the Board voted to move forward with some aggressive, necessary and long-awaited changes. While that may have been welcome news to minority parents and stakeholders, it did not sit well with some “privileged parents” from high achieving schools like Buist, School of the Arts and Academic Magnet.

The meeting was an opportunity to present the pros and cons of single member district. Depending on who you ask, single member district will fix decades long problems of how members are elected and how their representative addresses issues in their respective district. For example, only West Ashley District #10 residents could vote for a person in their area to represent them on the County Board. The voters in District #10 can foster a relationship with their representative and hold him/her responsible. Residents will have a better chance of voting their representative out than if elected at-large. However, those in opposition were split. Councilmembers Henry Darby and Teddy Pryor, both elected through Single Member District voting, said they were not opposed but said a vote should be put off until after the 2020 Census. And, others said “time is off the essence and the community cannot wait two more years” .

While I see advantages and disadvantages in single member district arguments, where were members of the delegation for the last twenty-five years when disingenuous decisions were being made by Charleston County School Board? Where was the Delegation for the past twenty-five years when Black community leaders and stakeholders appeared before the Board requesting equity in education and funding for minority students?  Where was the Delegation when minority teachers and principals were being forced out of the district or transferred because they were not “good enough” or “smart enough” to teach or head up majority white or high performing schools? Where was the Delegation when hundreds of minority students were being disproportionately suspended and expelled? Where was the Delegation when minority schools were being closed, renamed, rebuilt and students bused out of their neighborhoods to accommodate white students? Where was the Delegation when minority students at Dunston Elementary were being molested by a school employee? Where was the Delegation during the last election when dark monies bought seats on the county school board? Where was the Delegation when minority community stakeholders fought for a county-wide high tech school at Rivers and were awarded 40% of the school’s space while 60% went to Math Science Charter and the high tech students only access to the school was through the back door? Where ‘da heck were y’all? Where were you when community meetings were held to close Garrett School of Technology, once a very high performing school; although stakeholders had the majority votes to keep Garrett at its present location, the board voted to close and relocate the tech school next to North Charleston High School.

The Legislation Delegation has been silent on almost every issue I have addressed. And, now since School of the Arts, Academic Magnet, and Buist are about to be taken off the district’s most sought after, highly revered, and high performing list, y’all decide to come out of hiding and move forward with Single Member Districts full speed ahead. How many of you met with concerned parents? How many of you have ever stepped foot into a predominately black school?  How many of you have or have had children that attended a predominately black school?

White parents were quick to pull their children out of public school when court ordered integration became the law of the land. And, now that they have decided to return, it is on their terms. They want the best possible private school education, like what was created at Academic Magnet, School of the Arts and Buist, in a controlled public school setting. The last time I checked, black and brown parents pay taxes too. Their children deserve the same opportunities at success.

Single Member District is not a cure-all for years of discrimination, but depending on who you ask, it may be a step in the right direction to eliminate age old biases and dismantle a two-tier educational system.

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