Delegation asked to add school board seat

By Greg Oliver
Courtesy The Journal

CLEMSON — Several Pickens County residents have asked the Pickens County Legislative Delegation to take action this session on adding a seventh seat to the Pickens County School Board.

“Back in June, I sent a letter to each of you asking that you act on House Bill 4299 — adding a seventh seat to the school board, and address things that have jeopardized the school district,” Central resident Heidi Williams said during the annual legislative delegation meeting held earlier this month at Clemson City Hall. “I understand we are in the clear with AdvancED (the accreditation agency for school districts, which had issued findings against Pickens County prior to its most recent positive report).

“It is time to bring that conversation to the Statehouse. Empower us to bring that seventh member to the school board and, hopefully, county council.”

The bill was originally introduced last spring by state reps. Gary Clary of the Clemson area and Neal Collins of Easley. After passing third reading in the House, the bill was sent on to the Senate and has remained there since.

Six Mile resident Francis Plotnik thanked House members for introducing the bill and advancing it to the Senate. But Plotnik asked legislators when the bill would be approved in the Senate and signed by Gov. Nikki Haley.

State Sen. Larry Martin of Pickens was noncommittal.

“It’s still in the Senate — it’s on the calendar for consideration, and there’s no timetable to take it up,” Martin said.

When Plotnik responded that “it would be nice to see it taken up as soon as possible,” Martin replied that all he could say was that the bill was still in the Senate.

“You’re not going to goad me into responding to a question like that, or we would be here all night,” he said.

House Bill 4299 was proposed in reaction to increased concerns that last spring’s AdvancED report, expressing criticism of what it said was the school district’s failure to take corrective actions on a couple of issues that proponents felt could lead to the loss of accreditation.

But senators Martin and Thomas Alexander, the latter representing a portion of Pickens County in addition to Oconee, were hesitant to say whether they would vote for the measure.

The bill stipulates that the seventh member must serve at large “and initially be appointed by a majority of the legislative delegation of Pickens County.” The at-large seat would eventually be terminated, and the number of members and single-member school board districts increased to seven, based on the seven attendance zones.

Finally, the bill stipulates that all Pickens County School Board members “must be elected by majority vote beginning with the general election in 2016.”

Shortly after the bill was introduced, Martin said he felt the school board itself should be responsible for correcting problems with AdvancED. The Pickens County senator said the seventh school board member, while theoretically avoiding tie votes, is not the real issue with the accreditation agency.

“It’s not tie votes, because that’s not identified in the AdvancED report, and while I’m sure the superintendent (Danny Merck) would rather not see more tie votes, and a more education-friendly board, which I get, as a practical matter the AdvancED report focuses on the actions of board members,” Martin said.

Alexander agreed, adding, “My focus is that (the school district) keep accreditation, and I’m not sure (adding a seventh board member) is the way to achieve that.”

Other audience members in attendance at the annual meeting agreed.

“I am opposed to 4299,” said Junius Smith. “We need debate, but (school district officials) want these sweet people instead of people who disagree about everything. That’s baloney. We need to debate.

“If you want to talk about a mess, you got it in the internal structure of the school district.”

Weldon Clark said he, too, is opposed to the idea.

“We need a vocal school board, delegation and county council to discuss things and disagree,” Clark said. “It’s called democracy.”