Editorial | New Horry County education board policy will create problems

A new discretionary spending plan for Horry County school board members is likely to create more problems than it will resolve. As the proposal stands, pending school board approval, each of the 12 members would have an annual fund of $7,500 to use for “education-related items.”

The money ($90,000 total) would be allocated for $3,750 to be available in the first and second halves of the school year. The board would vote on members’ recommended expenditures. Apparently, no other school district in South Carolina has such accounts.

The idea was approved in a non-binding vote of the committee of the whole in late June. Unless a couple of board members change their minds, the discretionary spending accounts likely will be be approved when the board next meets in August. There is still time for board members to re-think this fund. It received six favorable votes in the 12-member committee as a whole, including that of Board Chairman Joe DeFeo who says the spending concept works well for the Horry County Council.

No doubt County Council members like having their individual “recreation funds’’ of $20,000 a year, which can roll over to the next fiscal year. The school board plan does not provide for carrying over monies not expended. From taxpayers’ viewpoints, DeFeo is stretching “working well” because there is little public accountability of these slush funds. One example: county dollars supporting the Blue Crab Festival the past three years. The County Council routinely approves whatever expenditure members want to make.

School board members are elected from 11 districts and the chairman is elected countywide, as is the chairman of the Horry County Council. School board districts are quite differen:; they include parts of two or more attendance zones, based on the nine high schools. District 10 for example, has parts of four attendance zones, Loris, Green Sea Floyds, Conway and Carolina Forest. The Carolina Forest zone is in six districts.

District 10 includes nine schools, board member Neil James notes. The school board vice chairman was among those opposing the new spending funds. “We already have a budget process and policies and practices in place to address needs and I see complications,’’ he said.

He acknowledges that some members see the new accounts as a way to solve problems. “On the surface, a discretionary fund sounds good,’’ but how does a board member decide which of several buildings in his or her district will have the funds? “I want to be fair,’’ he says.

District 1 member Harvey Eisner of North Myrtle Beach also opposes the new spending for some of the same reasons cited by James. District 1 includes five Little River-North Myrtle Beach buildings. “Who am I to decide … I feel that’s up to the district.’’ As a retired administrator and teacher in a large suburban Chicago district, Eisner is sensitive to the policy-making role of board members and the need for them to stay out of day-to-day management.

That point is well taken, especially since the spending account idea apparently grew out of a request for painting at Whittemoor Park Middle School. Eisner and James both noted the situation, which arose after the board cut out some painting unless it was a “dire straits” situation. The city of Conway stepped in to help with the painting at Whittemoor, which will be reopening older classrooms to accommodate 200 more students.

The very idea of individual board members having spending accounts for special projects opens doors to micromanaging. That’s reason enough not to start a bad practice, but other potential complications dictate that the school board members and chairman re-think a policy establishing individual spending accounts.