HICKS COLUMN: Misstating policy or politics?
Elizabeth Moffly is probably not in the running for Charleston County School Board member of the month.
The outspoken district critic has told opponents of the new Sullivan's Island Elementary that the district used “the threat of a fabricated board policy for 500 or nothing (students) to intentionally deceive” island officials into accepting a larger school.
And she's asked those folks if they would like to pursue fraud charges. “The district went in and bullied and threatened Sullivan's Island,” Moffly says. “My issue is that the district didn't tell the truth.”
Even for Moffly, whose disdain for Superintendent Nancy McGinley is legend, that's a pretty serious charge — criminal and civil violations. Usually, the district just ignores grief from Moffly. But apparently this is serious enough to make school officials go after one of their own.
Generally it's not good policy to call out someone who sits on the board. But John Emerson, the district's attorney, says Moffly's allegations simply are not true. “(T)he email issued by Ms. Moffly is inaccurate and its claims of improper conduct are baseless,” Emerson says.
So what's the deal?
Well, Moffly is correct that there is no written policy that says the district builds schools for only 500 or more students. It's building some slightly smaller elementary schools right now.
At the same time, the district has shown a trend toward the economies of scale that goes back to when Arthur Ravenel was on the board six years ago. But that's been a policy with a small “p,” not an education spec. Moffly says if there's nothing in writing, there is no policy.
Emerson says no one ever claimed there was a written rule. The offer for a larger school was presented to the island as a “business decision.”
That's also how members of Sullivan's Island Town Council remember it. Mayor Pro Tem Mike Perkis said the district offered a 500-student school or nothing. The town agreed it made financial sense. “We didn't ask for special treatment, and didn't want it,” Perkis says.
The politics at play here are pretty easy to read.
When a new Sullivan's Elementary was being discussed a couple of years ago, the district had just shut down some schools with declining enrollment in minority neighborhoods — and justified it by saying they didn't have enough students. So how would it look to turn around and build a boutique school for 220 kids on tony Sullivan's Island?
Moffly says the district should build schools where the kids are, and those island kids could go across the bridge to Mount Pleasant schools. But the board chose to build a school on Sullivan's and the town went along with it.
So what happens now? Well, the folks opposed to Sullivan's Island Elementary have adopted several arguments to try to stop it, and currently have one lawsuit pending.
There's no reason to believe they'll give up just because crews are pouring the school's foundation next week.