Delegation hears from public


Concerns voiced about possible new school board seat

LIBERTY — Hundreds showed up at the Pickens County Career and Technology Center last Thursday to voice their opinions on the possible addition of a new member to the Pickens County school board.

Sen. Larry Martin said the matter had caught the attention of the Pickens County Legislative Delegation, and lawmakers are seeking more public input before they return to Columbia to take action.

“We don’t go back into session until January,” Martin said. “We will hear what the people have said. If a local matter is vetoed, it has to be overwritten by the entire membership.”

Martin said he favors adding a district instead of adding an at-large seat, because people feel more comfortable if they can call their representative. Going to five districts would likely eliminate the Liberty seat on the board, so that’s “not acceptable,” Martin said.

Thomas Watson of Pickens said he does not see why another school board position must be created. Watson suggested that people who are upset with the board should “simply find a candidate who will really represent them on the school board.”

Six Mile resident Garvin Bolding blamed the issue on cost overruns for costing the district a school.

“The cost overrun at Daniel High School was so bad they could not afford a second junior high in Easley,” Bolding said.

Sandra Bray of the League of Women Voters in the Clemson area suggested that an at-large member be added to the board.

“An at-large seat would face voters county-wide, and minimize the effects of uneven growth,” Bray said. “The larger school board would have more voices, and hopefully more discussion.”

Laura Goldstein, also of the League of Women Voters, also supported adding an at-large seat. Bray pointed out that currently with six members it takes a two-thirds vote to pass anything. An additional member would allow a simple majority to pass a measure.

Eleanor Hare, of the League of Women Voters, suggested adding an at-large seat instead of redistricting. Hare noted that there would be no additional cost with an at-large seat because it would not require redistricting. She thought an at-large member would have to be focused on the problems for the entire district.

Junius Smith, President of Conservatives of the Upstate, applauded the board for eliminating three at-large a seats a few years ago. Smith said that since then, seven school districts in South Carolina have sued the state.

“The school board has put the district in record debt,” Smith said. “Why can they spend millions in Easley to make a bicycle trail? Why not build a new school?”

Bo Jeanes of Easley said the school district should have other priorities.

“If something is not broken, we need to leave it alone,” Jeanes said. “The common-core curriculum that is being proposed can do much more damage. We need to get rid of that.”

Former board member Dan Winchester of Pickens brought his experience to the meeting.

“Our school board is fairly well representative, and adding a seventh member is totally unadvised,” Winchester said. “Our school board is not broke. Don’t tamper with them. Adding a seventh member will not do anything to help that goal. Let’s drop this idea of a seventh seat.”

Michelle Wiles, second vice president of the Pickens County Republican Party, advised against adding a seat.

“Show the people where you stand on issues of spending,” Wiles said. “Support the board the way it is structured now.”

Clemson resident Ed Harris said he would like to see the school board remain the same. He questioned whether at-large seats had been declared discriminatory by the NAACP.

George Murphy of Dacusville added, “The current school board does a good job, promoting from within. Adding a seventh member would be an unwise, unnecessary expense.”

Murphy said he was sympathetic with the need for another junior high school in Easley, but called it an expense that voters cannot afford at this time.

School board member Jim Shelton said it has been a challenge dealing with the building program.

“If we don’t develop a maintenance plan, we will be in the same situation in a few years,” Shelton warned.

Shelton suggested that districts be configured with two members each from attendance areas for Easley, Pickens and Daniel areas, and one from the Liberty area.

“If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” Johnnelle Raines of Pickens said.

Raines said if the new board member could somehow promise to stop the Common Core agenda, she would still vote for that person.

BIll Robinson of Easley noted that a tied vote is possible with six members, but wouldn’t be with seven.

Robinson noted that the school board agreed to build a second middle school in Easley and then “ignored that.”

“The school district is doing a capable job,” Robinson concluded. “Hopefully we will get better candidates.”

Bill Johnston said that government should be shrinking, not growing, and he is very much opposed to the new board member proposal.

Charles Hendricks, pastor of Shoals Creek Baptist Church, said the district should be recruiting more minority members.

Stewart Blackwell of Easley told delegation members “‘leave things like they are’ is a statement as an African American I have heard all my life. If an at-large member will make a difference, I’m all for it.”

Former Easley High School principal Bill Houston said he likes the idea of adding a seventh member to the school board, and hopes that then he will be able to vote for the Easley representative on the school board.

Wilma Shealy, of Burdine Springs near Easley, reported that currently her representative on the school board is from Dacusville.

Easley mayor Larry Bagwell said he felt the school debate had somehow become about municipal rivalries.

“I just can’t get rid of the feeling that everybody is against Easley,” Bagwell said. “We’re not asking for special treatment. We just want what’s fair.”