A researcher at Clemson University’s Strom Thurmond Institute of Government and Public Affairs has issued a report on the government process surrounding school consolidation in South Carolina. School consolidation is when multiple school districts or individual schools are combined, and it’s usually surrounded by years of contention as local communities defend their schools and school board autonomy.
Alumni Professor Emerita of Economics Holly Ulbrich says decisions about how school districts are structured are controlled through local legislative delegations. That’s usually suported through largely automatic consent of other lawmakers.
Ulbrich says consolidation is an increasingly popular issue.
(Ulbrich on consolidation MP3 1:48)
Ulbrich on consolidation
Lawmakers usually seek input from local constituents but may still vote in support of consolidation.
Ulbrich says it would be a good idea for voters to ask candidates how they stand on local consolidation. There are 124 House seats to be filled in the upcoming election.
Recent controversial decisions about the structure and authority of school boards have been made by referendum votes in Pickens, Sumter and Fairfield counties. Following a previous referendum, consolidation will be implemented in Sumter next year. A referendum is also coming in Dillon County which could allow residents to vote on school board members. They are currently appointed positions.
Ulbrich says her conclusion is that the process needs to change, giving citizens more say.
State lawmakers have the primary power on the issue of local consolidation. But even candidates for governor have expressed themselves on the issue. Ulbrich says Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, Representative Nikki Haley and Attorney General Henry McMaster all said they would implement mandatory consolidation. U.S. Representative Gresham Barrett said he didn’t think a mandate was necessary but said that the process needs to be improved.
There are 85 school districts in South Carolina. Twenty-nine districts serve single counties. Some districts even cross county lines.
Ulbrich says school boards and the people who elect them need more power in the process. She says in Sumter and other cases, there was certainly evidence in support of consolidation. But her point is that the process used to resolve such dilemmas is just as important as the outcome.