Wednesday, August 28, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

I want to thank the many of you who called and emailed regarding the Jasper School System. There were a number of calls about the Beaufort County School District but, in my view, we need to compare apples to apples and treat what we are seeing in Jasper County as something of an emergency, with all that that status implies. Calling me is one thing, but to truly execute the proper change, you must be on the phone or on the street corner with your School Board representative. You need to call the State Superintendent of Education, Mick Zais (803-734-5800), or the Governor’s office (803-734-2100). Each class that cycles out of a failing school or school system will cost us all dearly. That said, the most profound costs of this failure are paid by those who leave these schools without the tools to achieve success in our increasingly competitive world.

In order to assess our choices of what we might recommend, Rep. Newton and I will meet with Dr. Zais the first week of September. Given the degree and duration of failure, one of the choices will be a state takeover of the system. While this is an option, I feel it should only be the most extreme last resort. My reasons for this have to do with the fact of I believe the parents in Jasper County should be afforded the opportunity to take responsibility for moving their elected officials to reform their system. The more direct the lines of accountability, the better. If the local elected officials are found wanting, there is an electoral remedy. Only if the local stakeholders are incapable or refuse to productively address the issue, then and only then, should there be consideration of intervention. I firmly believe that the parents and other residents of Jasper County, if presented with a clear choice, will do what it takes to make certain their children receive the education they deserve.

In a different but somewhat related area, this representative, along with Rep. Newton, Sen. Davis and Sen. Pinckney, met with Jasper County Council for the latest update on the Jasper Port situation. A group of well-regarded consultants has been examining this issue for some time. Their findings were both enlightening and alarming. They were alarming when taken in a context of the infrastructure deficits we are currently facing with both highway and rail construction. In a mere 14 years, it is conservatively projected that the ports of both Savannah and Charleston will be over capacity. In 27 years, it is projected that the ports of Savannah, Charleston, and the still un-built Jasper Port will all be at or over capacity. Still, we allow parochial concerns to stall the new port, as well as delay the supporting infrastructure.

Perhaps the most startling projection delivered at the meeting was the fact that by 2040, assuming all three ports are operational, there will be around 240,000 jobs directly or indirectly associated with our Georgia and South Carolina ports. Our area of the coast is uniquely situated to take advantage of industries either locating or moving to this relatively snow-free part of the country. On paper, we should be the center of the economic universe.

Unfortunately, we are still arguing over who pays for the new bridge over the Back River. We are facing legislative resistance to bringing our state’s Interstate Highways up to a decent standard. Perhaps most sadly, we are in an emergency situation because the school system near the heart of all this potential prosperity cannot figure out how to teach reading, writing, and basic arithmetic.

Friends, we have some decisions to make. Do we allow our historical limitations and little arguments to consign us to eventual irrelevance? Or, do we forge the agreements and make the investments that will lead to a brighter and more prosperous future? We do have a choice.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

All I can say is “Wow.” The amount of feedback we received in favor of a better Jasper County School System was absolutely incredible. Last Wednesday when we got into the office, the phone was ringing and the computers were loaded with emails, all expressing gratitude for speaking the words that seemed to be on everyone’s minds. The dam broke that had been holding back all the disappointment, outrage and frustration with the arrogance, stonewalling and failure within and about the school district, and just flowed out. Folks understand at the deepest level the connection between a failing school system and the persistence of the historic cycle of poverty and all that entails.

We received calls from all around the Lowcountry as far up the road as Walterboro. I never really understood how many folks read the column, or how much they need to feel like someone gets the fact that the lives of their children will not improve until they have access to the kind of schools that prepare them for good jobs and good lives.

As many of you know, there was a rally at Turpin Park in Ridgeland last Saturday. There were many good people at the event who were concerned that unless they came together and demanded a positive change, the intractable status quo would carry on, and nothing of consequence would change—ever. I am always heartened when there is a significant fraction of folks who decide to become the change that will lift up their communities. Every volunteer should be welcomed. Every effort should be made, until we see a jammed parking lot at every parent/teacher night at every school. This representative will continue to report on this important situation as it unfolds.

While it is still blistering hot, at least for a few more weeks, there is a lot politically happening in our community. My friend, Congressman Mark Sanford held court for several hours at Moon Mi Pizza last week. Some folks remember only the untoward parts of Mark’s recent history, but the Congressman and I had a good relationship when he was governor and now that he is our man in Washington, I want to continue that productive partnership. If you need to speak with our congressman, either call me at 757-7900 or local Sanford staffers Carri Fuge or Chris Steele at 843-521-2530, and we will see if we can get you on the schedule.

Also, I was happy to learn that my pal Mike Raymond has filed to run for re-election to Bluffton Town Council. As you probably know, there are some issues being hashed out in the Old Town, with excessive noise, illegal parking, and assorted bad behaviors among them. Mike, in my view, is a levelheaded fellow who will add a lot to the discussion.

My friend and colleague, Weston Newton, recently returned from a state legislator’s conference in Chicago. I am very interested to hear what he learned. Fortunately, Weston and my pal Andy Patrick (R-Hilton Head) and I will be carpooling to the Republican Caucus meeting in Greenville next week. I have no doubt that Andy and I will benefit from Weston’s conference experience as we make the drive to the Upstate. The caucus meeting will enable us, along with Rep. Shannon Erickson, to present a united and coherent agenda for the benefit of our individual constituents, as well as the general good of our state, as we reconvene the session on the second Tuesday of the New Year.

Finally, next week we will roll out some cool stuff about to begin toward the end of September that will interest the business community in Greater Bluffton.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

Thanks to all the people who called about my columns on local business creativity and success. We have managed to find the balance between a good business environment and a great place to live. This summer has not only been the most productive in a very long time but we also included a large number of summer jobs for younger folks, including our children. Many of these summer jobs will morph into part-time employment, as school gets under way.

Speaking of schools, we received the latest school report cards for the various school systems. As chairman of the Jasper County delegation, I am chagrined but not surprised that once again, the Jasper County School District received an “F” for every school and the district as a whole. This was not just a nearly passing grade that fell slightly below the line; it was the lowest in the state.

Admittedly, there were some political problems with the Election Commission that may have been an indirect part of the problem, but the delegation instituted a good reform that should at least allow for a fairer school board election next time around. We also had some unsettling revelations during public comment, concerning the perception of an atmosphere of fear and intimidation within the school district. Given an opportunity to explain, the district superintendent and her crew chose instead to try and make it a racial issue.

Those who know me, know that I grew up in a household with half a dozen brothers, as well as, over the years, at least twenty-five foster brothers and sisters of every size, shape, race or creed. Automatically dropping the race card doesn’t play with me. We simply put it back in the deck and start over. Also, if your intent is to intimidate, you might as well pack a lunch, because you are in for a wait. What cannot wait is for the Jasper County School Board to do what should have been done already, which is to replace Superintendent Vashti Washington.

Two years of excuses do not excuse, or explain such a dramatic, dispiriting and intolerable record of failure. I have heard the dozens of calls and read the emails of frustrated and fed up parents who are simply furious that their children cannot receive a decent education in the public schools their taxes support. Those who can afford private school have long since gone, and grudgingly accept what amounts to double taxation.

Consequently, I am calling on the parents of Jasper County to contact the members of their school board and demand a change. Call the Secretary of Education, Dr. Zais (803-734-5800). Call the governor’s office (803-734-2100). Write letters to the papers that detail the litany of grievances so that every voter will demand reform of this failing school system.

Friends, I talk a lot in this column about the importance of jobs and job creation-- about how good jobs support stable families and wholesome communities. This presupposes that potential workers can read, write a sentence, do basic arithmetic, and have the social skills that will allow them to be trained as productive employees. These are the very skills that are not being successfully taught in Jasper County.

We have a vast, and largely untapped resource in Sun City. The number of folks who are willing to mentor, to tutor, to provide the models for successful livelihoods and lives is virtually unlimited. They need to be welcomed and incorporated by a forward-looking school district. We don’t have a single minute or a single person to waste.

Finally, this legislator challenges any who would accept this failure and its inevitable consequences. Our children look to us for the tools to build a good life. The least useful of tools are excuses. It’s time for change.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

From the House

Bluffton Today

It was busy in Old Town Bluffton this week. Along with the usual influx of visitors and local customers, we also had the groundbreaking for the new Corner Perk in the Promenade. Josh Cook and his lovely wife, Kali, have been planning this project for a couple of years and it’s about to come to fruition. The new Corner Perk is going up at the corner of May River Road and the extension of Calhoun St. in the very southern part of the Promenade.

Most folks know Josh as the purveyor of great coffee, good food, and a fierce dedication to the idea of Bluffton community and culture. The first Corner Perk was a small, out-of-the-way place, which nonetheless became something of a cultural hub and meeting place for morning bicyclists, study groups, and civic gatherings. Josh is also the originator of a well-received series of innovative “Love Bluffton, Buy Local” posters.

The new building and new business are the very essence of local Bluffton. The plan for the attractive 2800 square foot, two story Lowcountry structure was drawn by James Atkins of local Bluffton architecture and planning firm, Court Atkins. The financing was by the great team at Palmetto State Bank, which is about a seven iron shot from the new building. When my friend Josh says “buy local” he means it.

I am personally pleased that these good folks and this excellent business idea are a part of both the Promenade and the Old Town Bluffton family. I imagine in a couple of years, this Corner Perk will be the flagship of a franchise entity, serving locals in various parts of the country. The combination of great idea and creative, energetic ownership is just about unbeatable.

Another highly motivated person working for the future of Bluffton is my friend, Kathy Corley. Dr. Corley is the principal of Red Cedar Elementary School, just on the outskirts of Old Town Bluffton. Whether you have children in school, or are just concerned about the future of our culture and our country, I urge you to call or email Kathy and set up a time to visit the school for a tour. Not only will you be impressed with the school, the teachers, and the level of organization, you will understand that these folks are serious about each of the children in their charge. You will also be impressed with the non-nonsense dedication of the principal and her way of getting the best out of her faculty, staff and students. The emphasis here is not to just pass on these children to the next grade, but to prepare them to be good students and good citizens, with a strong future twenty or twenty-five years down the road.

So call Principal Corley at 843-707-0604 or email her at and make your appointment. That said, you may be asked to volunteer in any way that you feel you can make a positive difference at Red Cedar Elementary. If you have an extra hour or two a week, and you really want to pass on a little of what you have learned in your life, or if you want to contribute to the success and prosperity of your community, join Dr. Corley in this good work. You may find you get back way more than you give.