“This is an unprecedented bill,” board chair Annie McDaniel said. “It would, in essence, eliminate the governing authority of the seven publicly elected members of the school board.”
McDaniel also called the proposed legislation “a wake-up call for the Fairfield County School Board.”
The bills, introduced last week by Sen. Creighton Coleman and Rep. Boyd Brown, would establish an independent finance committee to handle the district’s budgeting process and would expand the school board to nine members, with two members appointed by the local legislative delegation.
“This bill would add a layer of bureaucracy to a system we already know is in need of immediate renaissance and change,” Dr. Patrice Robinson, superintendent, said. “There’s no superintendent in the state, or in the country, I imagine, that has conditions such as this imposed upon them.”
Robinson said the bills would limit her ability to effectively recruit new teachers into the district and would hinder her ability to make financial decisions.
“We would have no say-so in salary negotiations,” she said. “The pay scale would be set by the delegation. It would be very difficult to attract any professional to come to this district under these conditions.”
The bills passed their third and final reading in the House and their first reading in the Senate Wednesday morning.
McDaniel, however, asked that “the delegation withhold finalization of the legislation until this board and the superintendent can put together a plan with the delegation and others.”
Dr. Paul Krohne, executive director of the S.C. School Boards Association, has also thrown his support behind the district, and sent a letter to Rep. Brown asking for a delay.
“We’ve delayed for 20 years,” Brown said. “It’s time to stop delaying and get something done. We’ve got to keep our eye on the ball, and that’s educating our children, and that’s what these bills do.”
Thomas Armstrong, president of the Fairfield Parent’s Association, also voiced his opposition to the bill.
“The Fairfield Parent’s Association does not support this bill,” he said, “and we will do whatever’s necessary to make sure this does not pass.”
Armstrong said money, and not the education of children, was the motivating factor behind these bills, pointing out the projected $240 million impact on the county’s budget from the new reactors at the VC Summer nuclear power plant.
“They don’t want to fix our problem,” Armstrong said. “A bill that would dilute power from an elected officer is wrong. $200 million – that’s what they’re after – complete control.”
Board members Henry Miller, Polly Parker and Danielle Miller were also present at the press conference, but said they had no prior knowledge of the conference’s theme or official statements made by the board chair.
“I have no idea about this whole delay process,” Danielle Miller said. “This is my first time hearing about this.”
The three board members later released a statement of their own, which said, in part, “We wanted to let the citizens of this county know that we are not opposing local legislation S.1112 and S.1113 or their companion bills H.4431 and H.4432. We agree that there should be some dialogue taking place with local delegates; however, there is a way to do so.”