Wednesday, August 6, 2014

From the House

Bluffton Today

I want to thank all the folks stopping by and checking out the new businesses. We are gratified and somewhat amazed at the surge of commerce in Bluffton and the Lowcountry. We are working diligently to improve the economic situation in Jasper County as well. However, before we can expect great improvement on the economic front, we must improve education in Jasper. I promised an education column, but this is likely to be a series of columns, at least two and probably three. The issue is large and complex, and there are matters afoot that require some background.

Since becoming chairman of the Jasper delegation, the one thing that has impressed me most is the number of parents and other residents who consistently show up at our delegation meetings. Regardless of our agenda, they want to talk about education. They want to know why their children are not getting the education their tax dollars are paying for. They fully understand that education is the key to good jobs, and good jobs supports stable and prosperous families. Stable families are the foundation of solid communities, which, in turn, make it more likely that other such families will join the community. This is the beginning of a virtuous cycle such as we are seeing in a number of places around the state, such as Bluffton.

The entity charged with hiring and supervising the leaders of the local education effort is the Jasper School Board. Although elected by the folks for four-year terms, some members of the board are less than forthcoming about how they decided to hire certain individuals. They are also not happy to discuss the criteria by which they evaluate the success or lack thereof regarding the leaders they have hired. After years of absolute or relative failure to improve test scores, or dropout levels, or most other important criteria, school leadership just doesn’t want to talk about much of anything. This lack of transparency is why we get the concerned citizens at standing-room-only delegation meetings, wanting to talk about education. They know it’s important, they know it is not working, and they want some explanations. The futures of their children are at stake.

Let’s return to this notion of “transparency.” A thing or a process is transparent when you can see into it, when you can see the parts, how they move, and how they do what they do. Historically, politics was not very transparent. Politicians met behind closed doors, made the real decisions, and the folks were given whatever information the politicians thought they could handle. Usually, the information was whatever justified the self-serving actions of the “leaders.”

More recently, educated voters insist that their leaders give them the real information on which they, the electorate, can make good decisions. Laws such as the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) serve to make open government the norm rather than the exception. As we have seen, however, intransigent public officials can defeat FOIA by simply refusing to comply. After the next legislative session, I predict that such strategies will be much less effective.

Another way that you can become an informed voter is to become a part of the government. Appointed boards and commissions are an essential part of government. In fact, there are a huge number of appointments by your delegation to different important boards and commissions currently pending. Call my office and we’ll see if we can’t find a good place for you to serve. One that comes to mind is being formed by my colleague, Rep. Shannon Erickson. She is putting together an anti-bullying task force for Beaufort County. Give her a call. Make a difference.

Next week, we will get into what reasonable folks in Jasper have every right to expect, and the good people on the front lines helping-- as well as an effort to keep the unacceptable status quo, in spite of failure after failure.