Return local autonomy to constituent school districts

Charleston County School District building at 75 Calhoun Street (Alan Hawes/Staff)

The Post and Courier on the editorial page has twice questioned a simple proposal to restore autonomy to the local constituent school district boards. The concept is designed to bring a more traditional proven approach to the educational administration in this county.

Why, you may ask, is local autonomy so important?

Those who have the best interest of the students at the center of their attention and employ with common sense concerning self-government, believe that local determination of school attendance zones, student/staff assignments and discipline is a tradition as rich as the neighborhood school. This belief has proven to be very effective in shaping the educational environment at the local level.

The eight constituent school district boards once maintained autonomy over staff/student assignments, discipline and transportation under Act 340 of 1967.

The Charleston County School District (CCSD) retained fiscal responsibility through a countywide tax collection to ensure equitable funding in the eight constituent school districts, which should have resulted in overall equality of the educational process.

Unfortunately, the S.C. General Assembly substantially changed Act 340 in 2007, when it moved local control of staff assignments from the local district boards by delegating centralized hiring practices to the Superintendent of Schools.

The centralization of power at CCSD has created a large bureaucratic monopoly over our individual communities. All CCSD employees are directly accountable to the superintendent leaving no allegiances or accountability for the management concerns to our local communities, which was once the generally accepted practice.

If that weren’t bad enough, the superintendent added another layer of bureaucracy by implementing the Office of Student Placement (OSP), that has not only removed student discipline from the constituent boards but also has been very instrumental in circumventing students’ rights to due process under the law.

It has been a common observance among constituent districts that OSP has caused more problems with managing student disciplinary hearings than providing effective solutions. Many feel that OSP should be eliminated entirely and the funding be redirected towards classroom management and guidance counselors.

Thus, the prevailing result of this consolidation of power has been poor communication among the many departments and divisions necessary to maintain an effective flow of information in order to rapidly respond to 3,700 employees, 47,000 students in 81 schools across 1,000 square miles.

The school district has grown to be the fourth largest employer in the county, which is comprised of 17 municipalities with three of the largest in the State of South Carolina that include the City of Charleston, City of North Charleston and the Town of Mount Pleasant.

Based on sheer size, the district has lost the ability to efficiently manage our school system contributing to low productivity, motivation and morale of employees, students, parents and the communities.

The administration at 75 Calhoun Street has become so bloated with overhead departments of Community Outreach, Office of Student Placement to Diversity Czars that it has lost hands-on effectiveness so desperately needed. All could be eliminated and allow our local districts the ability to assess their own unique problems, since they are closest to their communities.

Several constituent school boards recently voted on management and personnel issues concerning their schools. District 1 voted to appoint an interim principal, District 23 voted to dismiss their high school principal, District 10 voted to change the bus schedule and District 20 has been ignored for years over the Burke dilemma.

However, after years of being marginalized, these school boards have found themselves with little to no authority over their local school districts.

Their only recourse is to wait for Charleston County School District to decide if and when any action will be taken to address each district’s unique demographic region.

CCSD is too big and is failing to represent the diverse character of our eight constituent school districts in a one-size fits all approach that is not working.

The district is the problem, but the constituent boards can be the solution.

The concept provides an easy answer to what we are facing. Even the Supreme Court agrees that “No single tradition in public education is more deeply rooted than local control over the operation of schools; local autonomy has long been thought essential both to the maintenance of community concern and support for public schools and to the quality of the educational process.”

We are asking for the Charleston County Legislative Delegation to amend Act 340 to restore local autonomy concerning staff assignments back to the eight constituent school districts.

It’s just that simple.

Elizabeth Moffly is a former member of the Charleston County School Board. This column was also signed by constituent board chairs Thomas Colleton (District 1, St. James-Santee), James Perry (District 4, Cooper River), Leon Green (District 9, St. John’s), Fran Clasby (District 20, City of Charleston) and Charles Glover (District 23, St. Paul’s), and former District 2 (Moultrie) constituent board chair Carol S. Koontz.