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Popular Elections in Dillon Schools on Hold

In November, Dillon County’s three-member legislative delegation told The Nerve they would relinquish its long-held control over appointing the county board of education and push for legislation requiring popular elections for the 10-member board.

But no bill was introduced this year.

Contacted late last month, Rep. Jackie Hayes, who is the athletic director and Dillon High School’s longtime head football coach in Dillon-based District 2, told The Nerve that legislation was put on hold because of a pending consolidation of districts 1 and 2, and the redrawing of legislative district lines.

“We didn’t want to put a plan in place if we have a different representative or senator,” the Dillon Democrat said about redistricting plans before the S.C. General Assembly. “We’re going to have different representation in Dillon County. The dynamics are going to change a little bit.”

Still, Hayes said he remains committed to a popularly elected county education board, noting, “When we go back in session in January, we’ll put that ball in motion.”

Hayes said he plans to hold public hearings on the issue in Dillon, Latta and Lake View “just to make sure we get it right when we do it.”

Efforts by The Nerve to reach Dillon County’s other two delegation members – Sens. Kent Williams, D-Marion, and Dick Elliott, D-Horry - were unsuccessful before publication of this story. But both of them told The Nerve in November that they would support legislation requiring popular elections for the county education board.

County voters in November by an overwhelming margin of nearly 90 percent said they favor popular elections for the county school board. The final tally was 6,071 to 737, according to the S.C. Election Commission.

Dillon County is the state’s only county in which a county board of education is appointed by the county’s legislative delegation, and every local school board is appointed by the county board.

Only three other counties – Anderson, Clarendon and Marion – have county boards of education, according the S.C. School Boards Association. Of those three, Clarendon County is the only county in which the legislative delegation appoints the county education board, though the county board does not appoint every local board member.

The November referendum in Dillon County establishing a popularly elected county board was non-binding.  A local bill passed last year authorizing the referendum said the results “may be considered” by the county’s three-member delegation in deciding “whether or not to provide for an elected Dillon County Board of Education.”

Hayes earlier said he would support local legislation this year making the vote results permanent.

Hayes late last month said he had heard suggestions that the county school board should be elected along County Council lines.  But that would mean that Latta-based District 3 would have only two board members, he said, adding that he believes each district should have equal representation on the county board.

Asked about popular elections of the local school district boards, Hayes replied: “What really I think needs to happen is elect that county board and let them decide whether they want to keep that local board. My personal thought is that we have too many boards, but we should let the people decide that.”

Dillon 2 is the county’s most-populous district with about 3,400 students, compared to about 1,600 in Dillon 3 and 800 in Lake View-based Dillon 1, according to the most recently available figures from the S.C. Department of Education.

Contacted late last month, District 2 Superintendent Ray Rogers told The Nerve that as of July 1, he was set to take over the Dillon 1 District upon its consolidation with his district.

“All of that probably will be dealt with next year because the big deal is the consolidation of the two districts,” Rogers said about legislation requiring popular elections.

Asked whether the county education board should be popularly elected, Rogers replied: “I’ve worked in the county for 40 years, and I’ve never had any problems with the school board or school board members. It wouldn’t matter to me how they do it.”

The county school board in February approved merging administrative services of the two districts, according to other media reports.

With the consolidation, the combined student population will be about 4,200, Rogers said. The District 1 superintendent’s position held by Stephen Laird, who is retiring, will be eliminated with the merger, Rogers said, though he couldn’t provide any figures on total projected savings.

“The problem right now is we don’t know the entire financial situation that they’re in,” Rogers said, referring to District 1’s finances.

As of June 30, 2010, Dillon 1 had a total $152,555 fund balance, compared to nearly $4 million in Dillon 2 and about $3.4 million in Dillon 3, according to the most recently audited figures from the state Department of Education.

Laird was quoted in earlier media reports as saying his district was hurt by state budget cuts and a loss of federal stimulus money.  He did not respond to several recent phone messages left by The Nerve.

Reach Brundrett at (803) 254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org.

 

General Assembly Legislation Local Government