S.C. Rep. Keeps His Grip on Dillon County Schools

November 25, 2013

Investigative Reports

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Rep. Jackie HayesIn November 2010, Dillon County voters overwhelmingly approved a proposal to have their county board of education popularly elected instead of being appointed by the local legislative delegation.

But although nearly 90 percent of the voters in that election said they wanted to end the delegation’s power, the four-member delegation today still controls the makeup of the 10-member county school board – the only such board in South Carolina that completely controls the makeup of local school boards within its jurisdiction.

The 2010 vote was non-binding. Dillon County Councilman Randy Goings contends that the county’s most powerful state lawmaker – Democratic Rep. Jackie Hayes, Dillon’s longtime head football coach and athletics director – is the main obstacle to change, though Hayes sponsored the legislation for the 2010 ballot proposal.

“If it were an elected school board, they would be held accountable to the people,” Goings told The Nervelast week. “But if they’re appointed, they’re going to do exactly what he (Hayes) wants them to do.”

Contacted Friday, Hayes, who was elected to the S.C. House in 1998, wouldn’t commit to popular elections, as he did when interviewed by The Nerve in 2010 and 2011.

“That hasn’t been on my radar screen right now; we just got done building three new schools,” Hayes said Friday, adding, “I will not make any more comments until we have our delegation meeting.”

Lawmakers return to session in Columbia in January.

Hayes wasn’t particularly busy this year in terms of introducing legislation, sponsoring just one item – a concurrent resolution naming a highway intersection in Horry County, online legislative records show.

Hayes reported $96,129 in income in 2012 as the Dillon County School District 4 athletics director and head football coach, according to his annual statement of economic interests filed in April with the State Ethics Commission. In addition, he received $22,400 in legislative income that year.

Hayes also reported his wife earned $96,129 last year as the District 4 director of programs for exceptional children.

In earlier interviews with The Nerve, Hayes denied having any control over decisions of the county school board.

“I’ve never called a board member and asked them to do anything,” he said in 2010. “I’ve never gotten any special perks or privileges.”

Efforts Friday by The Nerve to reach Richard Schafer, the county board of education chairman, were unsuccessful.

Until the mid-1970s, county legislative delegations generally governed counties, including approving county budgets. The Home Rule Act, which took effect in 1976, was supposed to give counties more control over their own affairs, though it didn’t end lawmakers’ influence over local school districts.

Four local school districts in the state have some or all of their board members appointed by a county board of education, according to the South Carolina School Boards Association (SCSBA). Two of the local districts are in Clarendon County; the other two are in Dillon County. The legislative delegations in the two counties appoint their respective county school boards.

Unlike Clarendon County, the Dillon County Board of Education appoints all members of the county’s local school boards, making it unique in the state. Dillon County’s two local districts – the Latta-based District 3, which had 1,649 students in April, state education records show; and the Dillon-based District 4, which had 4,242 students in April – each have seven-member school boards.

Anderson County is the only other county with a county board of education in addition to local school boards, though the county and local boards are popularly elected, according to the SCSBA.

The 2010 vote in Dillon County to end the legislative delegation’s power to appoint the county school board was non-binding, as specified in a joint resolution passed by the S.C. General Assembly earlier that year and sponsored by Hayes.

Nearly 90 percent of the 2010 vote was in favor of a popularly elected county board. The final tally was 6,071 to 737.

The vote came several months after a controversial decision by the county school board to change the way property taxes are distributed to the local school districts. Hayes and another member of Dillon County’s legislative delegation, Sen. Kent Williams, D-Marion, proposed the change, according to local media reports.

In an interview a short time after the 2010 general election, Hayes told The Nerve that he would support legislation making the non-binding vote permanent.

“When we go back in session (in January 2011), the delegation will be working toward getting that implemented,” he said then. “We want to do the will of the people.”

Nothing happened, though.

In a follow-up Nerve story in July 2011, Hayes said the legislation was put on hold because of the pending consolidation of Dillon County school districts 1 and 2 (now called District 4), and the redrawing of legislative district lines.

Still, Hayes said then he remained committed to a popularly elected county school board.

“When we go back in session in January (2012), we’ll put that ball in motion,” he said.

But nothing happened again – either in 2012 or this year.

Three other lawmakers make up the current Dillon County delegation, though they represent smaller parts of the county and are based in neighboring counties – Sens. Williams and Greg Hembree, R-Horry; and Rep. Wayne George, D-Marion. Hembree and George were elected last year; Williams has been in the Senate since 2005.

Hembree, the former solicitor of Horry and Georgetown counties, told The Nerve on Friday he wasn’t aware of the 2010 non-binding vote, and that constituents he represents in the Lake View area of Dillon County have told him they “like having their own school board.”

Hembree said he has not yet discussed the matter with Hayes, though he added, “My default position would be to let the voters decide who their school board members will be.”

Contacted last week by The Nerve, George, whose district includes the Latta area of Dillon County, said he was aware of the 2010 election results. But he also said he doesn’t know whether he would support popular elections for the county school board until he meets with the other delegation members.

“I want to have a meeting and see what the pulse of the other members is,” George said.

Williams did not respond to several phone messages left for him last week by The Nerve.

Reach Brundrett at (803) 254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @thenerve_rick. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.