LEAD LETTER OF THE WEEK

Horry schools need return to traditional governance

February 24, 2013 

Public education in Horry County is no longer public. All public schools are now private ones. Public tax dollars are directed by the superintendent of education to local, state and national business interests without democratic input from the public and board of education. The board of education no longer directs budgetary planning, district operations and district policy. Monetary decisions are not scrutinized by the board.

The public and board of education no longer have representative input into what students are taught and how they are taught. We are being led and controlled by a non-elected servant of the public and confidant of private enterprise who also gets to decide what philosophy of education, materials, and methodologies will be used to guide and teach students. The superintendent of education’s authority has been expanded so much that the Horry County Board of Education is largely irrelevant.

No major media coverage has informed the public of how Horry County Schools operates. The public is largely unaware that the superintendent has been granted unprecedented influence. There was no major public information, debate, or input before the board of education voted in 2000 to move to a radical form of governance that is used by less than 1 percent of the some 14,000 school districts nationwide.

Why should citizens of Horry County care?

Over half a billion dollars are spent annually. Young people’s minds and well-being are at stake. Leaving decisions about monetary expenditures and substantive educational initiatives largely in the hands of the superintendent is not a democratic practice. While many decisions might be good ones, not all will be. Who should decide what is good and bad, what is best for students, and how tax dollars should be spent? Should the public and the board, as representatives of the public, not have significant input?

Trust of the superintendent is at the heart of how we operate. Ronald Reagan used to say, “Trust but verify.” The monitoring system the board uses to try to check on the activities of the superintendent is superficial, at best. Monitoring reports are prepared by administration to inform the board about results being achieved in specified areas. The board uses these to determine if the superintendent is being successful.

More often than not, however, they are brief and lack necessary detail. Often relegated to the consent agenda, they are not even discussed at all. This process eliminates deep understanding of district activities by board members who used to sit on standing committees such as curriculum, budget, finance, audit and operations. Under our system of governance there are no standing committees of the board.

Freedom of speech for board members is significantly curtailed by policy. Board members are to “criticize privately, praise publicly” and “not express individual negative judgments about superintendent or staff performance.” “Members will respect decisions of the board and will not take action to undermine those decisions.”

Are these not responsibilities of representatives in a democratic-republic? Do we not all have a responsibility to be critical of our leaders, if we think they are not acting in what we perceive to be the best interest of the public? Without dynamic public debate, we would have no democratic republic. I am sure we do not have a democratic republic school district.

Please urge the board to vote for a return to traditional governance. We need members who will devote the time necessary and who have the levels of expertise to exercise appropriate oversight over the welfare of students and our tax dollars. Ignorance and apathy are our worst enemies. The board of education should be empowered, informed and relevant once again.

The writer lives in Surfside Beach.

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