Seventh Seat: Not Again
By Alex Saitta
January 9, 2017
I read about bill H3346 to add a 7th seat or district to the school board. This bill (sponsored by Neal Collins, Davey Hiott and Gary Clary) is not needed, and adds rules that creates unfairness and weakens democratic principles when it comes to selecting school board trustees.
The county council has six districts representing Dacusville, Pickens, Easley, Six Mile/ Central, Clemson and Liberty. In 2010, the size of the school board was reduced to the same six district, which made things simpler for voters. Adding a seventh district to the school board, is going to mean the districts and their lines will then be different than the county council. Why complicate things?
Some have said they fear too many tie votes on the six member board. That’s an understandable concern, but the voting record doesn’t justify that fear or adding a seat to “fix” the problem. Since the school board has had six seats, there have been more than 700 votes. Only 14 or less than 2% had a tie vote and 13 of those 14 ties led to compromising solutions on the issue. The one issue that didn’t wasn’t even an education issue.
Seat In Easley:
This effort is being led by Neal Collins of Easley, so it is not surprising the extra seat will be added in Easley. Those supporting this seventh seat have argued the Easley school attendance zone has only 1 representative on the school board (the Easley trustee) and the Pickens zone has 2 representatives (the Pickens and Dacusville trustees). Close inspection of the school board districts reveals this also not true.
Most of the area represented by the Dacusville trustee spreads into Easley school attendance area. The northern part of Easley and most of the eastern half of Easley is represented by the Dacusville trustee. The Dacusville seat covers areas of Easley were students attend Crosswell, McKissick, East End and the Forest Acres elementary schools. In fact, seven of the Dacusville trustee’s ten polling places are in Easley. According to Larry Martin, 68% of the voters in the Dacusville seat actually are in the Easley attendance zone, while only 32% are in the Pickens zone. Thus, looking at the facts, you can make the opposite case; the Easley attendance zone has nearly two representatives and the Pickens zone has only one.
Currently, all school board trustees are elected by the people directly every 4 years. That selection or that power is directly in their hands. Reading the bill, the delegation appoints the seventh trustee to serve until Nov 2022. That is, this unelected/ unaccountable to the public trustee will serve on the school board for a 5 1/2 year term. He is likely to be a swing vote on some critical issues that have otherwise been worked out by a down the middle compromise.
With this seventh seat, for the first 5 1/2 years the delegation aims to take that power out of the people's hands and put it in the hands of 4 members of the state delegation (Neal Collins, Davey Hiott, Gary Clary, and Rex Rice). Can you understand how some see this as a power grab by the delegation?
This bill also adds the requirement that the winning candidate must get more than 50% of the vote, not just the highest number of votes on election day. So some of these elections will now go to a run-off election.
First of all, this rule doesn’t exist in school board elections in the surrounding counties of Oconee, Greeenville or Anderson. And I can understand why.
Let's run this tenet of the bill through real time. Let's say at the last election, on Nov 8th, Saitta got 36%, Jones 35%, Smith 15% and Taylor 14%. Saitta would not win with this new law, but Saitta and Jones will to run-off on Nov 22nd, which is days before Thanksgiving and after 2 years of a presidential race all are happy is over.
How many will vote in this Nov 22nd run-off? About 10% will vote in the Nov 22nd run-off vs. about 70% in the Nov 8th general election. So the winner is chosen by 10% of the electorate.
Let’s look at the case of a special election. For instance, Brian Swords, the current Liberty Trustee, was in a four way race in a special election in April 2014. Turnout was 7%. With this new law, if he didn’t get 50% plus of the vote, they’d have a run-off election two weeks later. How many would vote in that run-off to that special election? About 3 or 4% of the electorate would be picking the school board trustee. It makes a bad problem (low turnout) even worse (even lower turnout).
Legislation they are creating should strive for selecting winners on election days when turnout is high.
By adding this run-off rule to school board elections, it will add another election to the cycle and increase costs to the county Voter and Elections Department.
How about creating legislation that solves a problem that actually exists? The problem isn’t the number of seats or even more representation for Easley on the board when Easley already has the most influence.
The problem is after trustees are elected, they do whatever the heck they want and are unresponsive to the public. Look at the school board now. They are closing schools, eliminating classroom teaching positions and raising tax rates. None of the trustees ran on this, but this is what they are doing.
The solution is making our school board and all our elected officials more responsive to the public. To start that ball rolling, put this 7th seat idea to referendum. If not, and you want to just dictate from on high,
Maybe the solution is 2 year terms, make the superintendent an elected position or give the people petition/ referendum power where the people could strike down actions by the school board (see article).
Also, they should consider ways to encourage more candidates to file for school board so the public always has a choice at election time. Too often school board members run unopposed.