Anderson Citizens Form Nonprofit Advocacy Group

June 10, 2014

Inside Insight

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school districtAnderson County School District Five has been the subject of two Freedom of Information Act lawsuits (ongoing due to failure to comply) and six separate FOIA requests (only one of which has been complied with) since November 2013, and continues to refuse to comply with the basic requirements of transparency under law to which it is subject. Despite a judge’s order in one of these suits, the district continues its refusal to supply email and other communications records, and has still not provided the proposed budget documents (primarily a powerpoint presentation) for Fiscal Year 2014-2015, at the heart of another FOIA request.

That proposed budget was subjected to a first reading on May 20, 2014, followed by a unanimous vote in favor by the Board of Trustees. At that time, the Chairman of the Board, Mr. Rick Bradshaw, and the Superintendent, Mr. Tom Wilson, stated that there would be a public hearing with opportunity for public comment, at 6:00 p.m., June 10, 2014 prior to final budget approval by the Anderson County Board of Education on June 12. Public notice of such hearings are required under law and by board policy, which requires 15 days’ notice in the Legal Notices section of at least one generally circulated South Carolina newspaper in Anderson.

The paper meeting that requirement is the Anderson Independent Mail. To date, the only public notice was in the hard copy of the paper, rather than the online version of the Legal Notices. This notice, while in compliance with the law, ran for only one day, in the hard copy version of the paper only. Few in the public would see this notice. As of 10:00 p.m. on June 9, there is no link to a budget or even a budget summary on the district website.

Quite simply, the district has either failed to comply with the basic requirements under FOIA in most cases, or does its best to comply only with the letter of the law, rather than the spirit. Notice of the meeting only appeared on the district calendar two days ago, and the agenda linked to that notice went up on Sunday evening. Three days’ calendar notice are required by the board policies. The agenda was a model of brevity, merely stating that there will be public comments permitted on the budget.

One of the other requirements under FOIA is the Open Meetings Act, which in turn states that Executive Sessions must be specifically described to the public. Until this past Thursday, June 5 at the Board of Trustees’ Meeting of the Whole, the district has been very circumspect about these descriptions, typically lumping any discussion under ‘Personnel Matters.’ The Open Meetings Act very specifically states that such a description is wholly inadequate. While this may seem to be a picky point, I and others have alleged in FOIA demands and an ongoing lawsuit that the district has illegally discussed issues and polled members contrary to the requirements under FOIA, and that in at least two cases, it took an illegal vote.

All of these events have led parents, grandparents and citizens in Anderson School District Five to band together to form a new non-profit organization, Anderson Five Citizens for Quality Education. We are working on several fronts: to educate the public on education policy and changes throughout the district; to hold the district accountable and require it to be transparent in its dealings; to support candidates for the Board of Trustees who will commit to putting the needs of students and their families ahead of all other matters; and to be completely honest and trustworthy.

Given our experiences over the last nine months, we have lost faith and trust in our current district officials as well as the trustees, and we strongly believe that major changes at both the administrative and elected levels are necessary. We will continue to work for these goals until we know that we can trust and depend on our elected officials, and will continue to keep a watchful eye on them even then.

Sharon Homer-Drummond is a biologist and science educator residing in Anderson, SC.