School Board Design
by Alex Saitta
May 14, 2007
The school board is an elected body, that is supposed to follow the direction of the people. Unfortunately, it seems over the last few years, that has not been the case. Here is one such example.
In November 2005, the people voted down a $197 million bond referendum by a 2 to 1 margin. Instead of listening to the people and reducing the building plan to a reasonable size, or cutting it into smaller parts and making the tax increase more modest, the majority on school board voted to do the opposite, spending nearly twice that amount, raising tax rates much more and to get it done, they adopted the Greenville Plan, which circumvented the Constitution and cut the voters out of the borrowing decision. If that $336 million plan would have gone to a referendum vote, it would have lost 3 to 1. The school board passed it 3 to 1.
That example provides a strong piece of evidence that the board is not following the direction of the people.
Legislaton To Make The Board More Responsive And Fairer:
Our local state representatives Davey Hiott, Rex Rice, and Phil Owens have introduced legislation to restructure the school board, to make it more responsive to the people and fair to all the districts in the county. They've proposed the chairman of the board be elected by the people, giving the voters more say in the direction of the board. The legislation also proposes to eliminate the 3 at-large seats, which give the districts those at-large members live in, more representation on the board than their population warrants. (I'll explain that below.)
Recently the Pickens County Republican Party passed a resolution urging our legislators to reduce the length of the terms of our school board members, so they’ll have to answer to the voters every 2 years. If a vacancy occurs on the board, now the replacement is appointed by the rest of the board. The Republican Party passed a resolution that vacancy should be filled by a special election.
Some others have suggested the County Superintendent be elected by the voters, rather than appointed by the board.
Some of those things I support, some I don't, but I agree some of them need to be adopted, so the board will be more responsive to the people and the structure of the board will be fairer.
Re-Structuring The Board Not A New Issue:
Some have said this issue has been created in response to the board passing the Greenville Plan. While the Greenville Plan and other actions of the board have caused the re-structuing issue to once again move to the forefront, restructuring the school board has been long discussed. For example, during my campaign in 2004, the Pickens Sentinel asked my opponent and myself a series of questions and one was, do you favor abolishing the at-large seats?. We both said the at-large seats should be abolished and provided two different reasons to back that position.
Six Districts Have Equal Population:
After each census is taken, every 10 years the six districts in the county are re-drawn in such a way that the population of those districts are equal. Following the 2000 census, district lines were re-adjusted so about 18,000 people live in each district. While the geographic size of the districts are different, the populations within those districts is equal.
If the school board had 1 representative per district, the population in each of those districts would be equally represented on the school board. The county council just has those 6 district seats, and the school board should be the same way.
(Warning! The 6 districts are different than the 4 high school attendence zones. The 6 districts were created by the state legislature, must be equal in population and are re-adjusted every 10 years after the population census. The attendance zones were created by the local school board, haven't been changed in 40-some-odd years and are not equal in population. They are two different things.)
At-Large Members Give Some Districts More Representation Than Their Population Warrants:
In addition to the 6 district seats, the school board has 3 extra seats that are county-wide seats or at-large seats. That is, those 3 board members can live any where in the county, and they are voted on by the county as whole. When you add in 3 at-large seats, some of districts end up having more representatives living in their districts than the population justifies.
For example, on the school board 2 members live in the Clemson District and 1 board member lives in the Liberty District, even though the population in the Clemson District is the same as the Liberty District. Why should a district have more representatives than its population justify?
That's the problem, and this over-representation of some areas would be eliminated, if the at-large seats on the school board were phased-out.
While the Easley District has the same population as the Liberty, Pickens, Six Mile, Dacusville and Clemson Districts, the Easley area (which I define as the city of Easley and the surrounding Easley communities) has the highest population, because geographicly the Easley area is huge and its popultion is dense. Therefore, the Easley area should have greater representation, than, let's say, the Pickens area, and under the 6 district system.
The Easley area has the Easley district seat, but also the Easley area spreads into more than 1/2 of the Dacusville District. You can see the Dacusville District includes the Easley precincts of Crosswell I & II, George’s Creek and McKissick, and part of Rock Springs. Jim Shelton and Tom Ponder (the Dacusville Reps on the school board and county council) are called the Dacusville Reps, but most of the people they represent actually live in communities that are in northern and eastern Easley.
When focusing on the 6 district seats, in sum, the Easley area has the Easley District seat, more than 1/2 of the Dacusville District seat and about 1/4 of the Liberty District seat. That is justified, because the Easley area has a much higher population.
What is unjustified by population, is having 2 additional school board members (at-large members) also living in the Easley District.
School board should have the 6 district seats only. The population of those districts are equal and having 1 representative living in each of those districts would be fair. The county council is set-up that way, and rightly so. The school board should be too. Adding in the at-large seats, gives the districts where the at-large members live, more representatives on the board than the population of that district warrants. That's unfair, and I hope the legislature will correct it.
If these 3 extra at-large members lived in the Pickens district, I'd be saying the same thing. The population of the Pickens districts is not greater than the other districts, why should more representatives then live in the Pickens district?
The legislature should also consider some of the other ideas that have been floated to make the board more responsive to the people.
The purpose is to make the structure of the school board fairer and more responsive to the people. Also, at issue is what the structure of the school board should be for the next 20 years or so. It is not about removing any one person or group of people who are sitting on the board now. Looking at the age of some members, how many terms some others have already served, it is safe to say most of the current board members will retire in the next 2 to 6 years.
The people that are seriously considering this, don't see it as an issue of removing this or that board member. Like I said, this fix will span over the next 20 or more years, and most of the currernt board members are likely to leave on their own in the next 2 to 6 years. It is about the people, the future board members, the parents and the children, looking out over the next generation.