Thursday, November 20, 2014

From the House

Bluffton Today

The timing of the Supreme Court’s long-awaited “Corridor of Shame” ruling could not have been more interesting, when we consider all the hoopla around the Jasper County School Board, and their upcoming redistricting. Our three community input meetings are complete, with credit going to all those who attended and made their voices heard.


The bulk of what we heard was from folks who truly seemed to understand that the status quo was unacceptable, that a failing system needed fundamental change. We were heartened to hear from so many parents and community leaders ready to demand that their kids not be disadvantaged by a substandard public education.


By contrast, it was disappointing to hear from a small group of speakers whose priorities seemed to be more political than educational. They seemed to speak from some other place than Jasper County Council chairwoman, Barbara Clark, who said that our efforts should be “about the kids.” In fact, I spoke with several attendees after the last meeting who were A.M.E. church members. They apologetically told me that much of what some of these folks had to say had been parroted from words they heard from the pulpit in the last several weeks.


Our goal was to take input from the community, which we did. We tried to explain the redistricting process, and what the options were. We introduced an alternate model to the plan formulated by Senator Pinckney—comparing and contrasting among the several possibilities. We were successful on all counts and truly hope that the folks understand they do have choices other than the perennially failing status quo.


It is likely that the House and Senate will come up with different plans for the reapportionment of the Jasper County School Board districts. If that happens and we are unable to resolve the differences, the decision will default to Judge Gergel. In my view, Judge Gergel will now have much more information on which to base his decision than simply the plan reflecting the needs of Senator Pinckney, formulated in private without benefit of any public input.


Another feature of the recent Supreme Court decision will be that we in the legislature will come up with a plan to satisfy the finding that the state had not provided all children in South Carolina with a “minimally adequate” public education. The plan will probably involve a funding increase that will also entail enhanced oversight of how that money is spent. With the high probability that real ethics legislation will be passed early in the next session, including the recommendations of Representative Weston Newton’s FOIA subcommittee, the lack of transparency by the school board majority will be harder to maintain. Also, the Justice Department is sometimes a little loose on political mischief—not so on financial mischief.


My hope is that the Jasper legislative delegation, Jasper County Council, the school board and district will find a way to begin to work together. It would be good if such a thing occurred because it is the right thing to do. Failing that, perhaps we can make some progress because persistent failure will begin to have real consequences, as the state oversight becomes more rigorous. The rewards of the current cronyism are not too difficult to conceal in the generalized mess of ineptitude. The task becomes wearisome in the light of even modest transparency.


One way or the other, I say to you that Jasper children are going to get a better education. We cannot write off another generation just so that a group of insiders and self-identified elites can run the show. We all SAY we want Jasper County to take its place in the ranks of the prosperous South Carolina, to produce and fill jobs that support strong and stable families and communities. Friends, it’s time we all started to ACT like it.