Group drops school board petition

By Ben Robinson, Courier Staff

COUNTY — While a petition to oust the entire School District of Pickens County Board of Trustees has been withdrawn, the group of concerned local residents that originally circulated it has vowed to continue its fight for change.

“We refuse to suffer the consequences of a poorly governed school board any longer,” read a statement released Monday by Concerned Citizens of Pickens County (CCPC), a group of local residents which claims 5,174 members. “Trustees, our expectations are high, the stakes even higher. If your interests do not advance education, we challenge you to step aside so we can elect officials with strong moral convictions and a commitment to education that will facilitate the best decisions for our communities and, most importantly, for our children.”

Following a Jan. 23 report from AdvancED evaluating the school district and putting its accreditation in danger due to issues with school board governance, a group of local residents formed CCPC, eventually initiating a petition to Gov. Nikki Haley on Feb. 3 to remove the school board. The petition gained 850 signatures within the first 10 days, but the group received a response from the governor’s office on Feb. 20 stating that state law provides no mechanism by which school board members could be removed without evidence of criminal activity.

“We do not perceive this limitation as defeat,” the board said in Monday’s release. “It simply indicates our need to redirect our efforts. We are withdrawing our petition, but our goal remains the same: to end the legacy of poor governance by our board of trustees.”

In a recent presentation to the Easley Rotary Club, according to CCPC, AdvancED’s South Carolina director Dr. Darryll Barringer explained that his organization did not withhold accreditation in an effort to punish the School District of Pickens County.

“On the contrary, AdvancED issued required actions that, if met, would help strengthen our board and provide immediate relief to our superintendent and administrators throughout the district,” CCPC said in its release. “AdvancED recommended accreditation, but final approval still depends on our current board of trustees’ ability to satisfy the standards of excellence required to merit the internationally recognized seal of distinction.”

School board members said at Monday night’s regular monthly meeting that they are confident the board will meet AdvancED’s reaccreditation terms when a representative returns for a followup visit in April.

“AdvancED recommended a renewal of our accreditation,” board chairman Alex Saitta said. “Our attorney has been in touch with them since the report came out.

“We have a good sense of what they are requiring of the board and the administration. We’ve hired a consultant (and) met with him three times.”

Saitta said board members will meet again with the consultant “in the next week or so.”

“We believe we’ll meet their requirements and the renewal of our accreditation will be finalized in a few months,” he said.

In other business at Monday’s meeting, the board also approved using three days already on the district’s calendar as makeup days for recent winter weather-related closings and hoping the state legislature will forgive the other days, as is being discussed now in the statehouse. This would leave the district with two other “makeup days” available on the calendar.

Saitta also talked about district educators’ salaries.

“Teacher salaries are lower than in surrounding districts,” Saitta said. “I think people who have been paying attention to what’s been going on the last 10 years shouldn’t be surprised.”

Siatta noted that the growth of the building program has made it more difficult to compete in salaries. The total of the building program ended up being more than twice what people had once voted against.

Saitta noted that he had voted against every increase in the building program.

“If you spend more money on buildings, you’re going to have less money for everything else,” he said. “If you go to Ocone,e their buildings aren’t as nice as ours. Their salaries are nicer, but the buildings aren’t. They actually went the route of doing one building at a time.

“They’ve got $15 million in debt. We’ve got $300 million in debt. It’s just the way economics works. If you want more of this, you’re going to have less of that.”