School board approves prayer before meetings

By Ben Robinson
Staff Reporter

COUNTY — The School District of Pickens County’s board of trustees unanimously approved a new policy to allow prayer before its meetings on Monday night.

By the policy, the board will line up a rotation of local clergymen to pray at the beginning of meetings.

“The law is clearly on our side to invite in a private clergy and ask them to give a prayer according to the dictates of their own conscience,” board chair Alex Saitta said. “This policy is constitutional.”

Saitta shared his strong belief in prayer.

“I personally believe when a person says a prayer to Jesus, Jesus hears the prayer (and) bestows a blessing on the meeting,” Saitta said. “I think adding blessings like that and similar to that by whomever gives it is positive. This is why prayers at the start of government meetings have been a tradition in this country since the first U.S. Congress. I believe we should continue that tradition.”

Saitta said the new policy should leave it open to various faiths.

“This policy lays out a process where all congregations are invited to give the prayer,” Saitta said. “I’m not Jewish, but I do appreciate their devotion to God and how they show it in their prayers and their life. Non-believers are likely to come at some point to give an invocation that recognizes the value in self-government, the brotherhood of man and ask all of us to unite as we seek solutions to the problems at hand. I will find appreciation in that, too.”

The policy should have its final reading at next month’s school board meeting.

School board members also discussed a policy regarding the hiring of retired former employees.

The proposed policy would allow the hiring of retired former employees. In addition to the salary they would be earning, retired employees could collect their retirement checks with no penalty.

Saitta opposed the proposed policy, because it would encourage people to abuse the retirement program to get more pay for basically the same job.

“This speeds premature retirements and puts an extra drain on the retirement system,” Saitta said. “Is there any surprise the S.C. retirement system’s long-term deficit is $14 billion?”

Saitta questioned whether the action would lead to more abuse of the retirement system.

“When an employee signs a document with the state saying they have retired, they can collect a retirement check,” Saitta said. “But they then say to the school district they aren’t retired, so they can keep on working and draw a paycheck, too.”

Councilman Jim Shelton said it was misleading to say the policy would encourage the rehiring of retired employees.

“The board has to approve any hiring,” Shelton said. “This could be a positive change.”

Councilman Jimmy Gillespie, who is not seeking reelection and whose term expires later this year, was disappointed that the board was spending time on the issue again.

“It hasn’t been that long ago that we changed this policy,” Gillespie said.

Gillespie said he was looking forward to “being gone” from the board.

The motion passed with a 4-2 vote, with Saitta and Gillespie voting against it.