Making Democracy Work

School Structure and Governance in South Carolina

LWVSC STUDY: SCHOOL DISTRICT STRUCTURE AND AUTHORITY

This two-year study was adopted by delegates at the April 2009 LWVSC Convention. The study took place in 2009-2011 and came to member consensus in 2011.

The following position on School District Structure and Authority was adopted at the LWVSC Convention in Sumter, SC, in April 2011:

Changes in the structures of the school board, and/or consolidating, or redrawing school district lines should be subject to a referendum by the voters in the affected school district(s).

Study Background

Although school districts, like cities and counties, are governed by elected boards, citizens have no say in the size and method of election, and the legislature generally has the power to consolidate or split districts. School districts also have very unequal amounts of fiscal autonomy in terms of approving their budgets and setting their mill rates. The governance of school districts is the last vestige of our late and unlamented form of local government by county delegation. Who should have the power to consolidate or split districts? Who decides how many members a school board should have, and whether they are elected at large, from single-member districts, or some of each? This issue is one that goes to the heart of the League's purpose, which is citizen participation in and ownership of government. Each local League will be able to explore the problem from its own local perspective as well as from a statewide viewpoint.


Why Study School Districts?

At its 2009 convention, the League of Women Voters of South Carolina adopted a study of the structure and governance of our school districts to take place over the next four years. Why study school districts?

Just look at what has been happening. Governor Sanford created a study commission that recommended only one district per county. Pickens County's school board lost its three at-large members through local legislation that was strongly opposed in many parts of the county. (Local legislation probably deals more often with school districts than anything else, as the General Assembly continues to act as the school board in chief for the entire state.) Anderson County is considering redrawing the lines for its five districts, created by consolidation in 1953, to provide more equal resources to students. Laurens County and Spartanburg County share tax resources among their two and seven districts, respectively. Sumter County was subject to an unplanned and unwanted consolidation of its two school districts. In Dillon County, the legislative delegation appoints the county board and the county board appoints the district boards. Some districts are too small to provide essential services, some too large for effective management. Some districts have limited fiscal authority; others have none.

We looked at how other states structure their school systems and what we might learn to create a little more local control, order and organization while still ensuring flexibility in managing and monitoring our public schools. Education has always been a top priority for the LWVSC. Good governance, citizen participation, transparency and accountability go to the heart of why the League exists. The combination of good education and good governance is an issue that will speak to many of us, inside and outside the League.

A mini-caucus held at the convention agreed that we need to start at the local level, asking ourselves, our fellow citizens, our school board members and teachers and superintendents what needs to change. We formed a statewide study committee and welcomed volunteers.


Study Committee
Chair: Holley Ulbrich, LWV of the Clemson Area (phone: 864-654-6828; email: holleyu@nctv.com)
Members:
Stacey Lindbergh, LWV of the Charlestonm Area
Eleanor Hare, LWV of the Clemson Area
Katy Simison, LWV of the Charleston Area
Study Resources for Local League Members Additional Resources
  • School District Organization and Governance in South Carolina. By Holley H. Ulbrich, Strom Thurmond Institute of Government and Public Affairs, prepared for The Jim Self Center on the Future, March 2010. This report provides an historic and current perspective on the structure and governance of public education in South Carolina.

  • Financing Education in SC - A Citizen's Guide By Holley H. Ulbrich and Ellen W. Saltzman, The Jim Self Center on the Future at the Strom Thurmond Institute of Government and Public Affairs. Download at http://selfcenter.clemson.edu/. This updated 2009 Financing Education in South Carolina: A Citizen's Guide outlines K-12 public education finance and school governance in South Carolina and current policy issues.
  • Policy Brief: Assessment Caps and the Point of Sale Provision By Holley H. Ulbrich, The Jim Self Center on the Future at the Strom Thurmond Institute of Government and Public Affairs. Download at http://selfcenter.clemson.edu/pdf/Assessment_Caps_and_POS.pdf.
  • Policy Brief: Why Should You Care about the Index of Taxpaying Ability? By Holley H. Ulbrich and Ellen W. Saltzman, The Jim Self Center on the Future at the Strom Thurmond Institute of Government and Public Affairs. Download at http://selfcenter.clemson.edu/pdf/Why_Should_You_Care_About_the_ITA.pdf.
  • Report: Options for Anderson County School Districts By Holley H. Ulbrich, Ellen W. Saltzman, Catherine E. Watt, Strom Thurmond Institute of Government and Public Affairs. Download at http://www.boardofed.net/Anderson%206-24-09%20FINAL2.pdf