Merging school districts has been a controversial issue in South Carolina ever since former Governor Mark Sanford first proposed one school district per county a few years ago. Now, some legislators think they may have a compromise that keeps the state’s 85 school districts intact, but combines some of their administrative services.
While presenting the proposal in a House subcommittee meeting Wednesday, Rep. Don Bowen (R-Anderson) said a lot of South Carolinians– including many of his constituents– don’t want to combine school districts. Many in the state’s smaller districts say they can better address students’ needs. Wealthier districts are concerned about inheriting financial problems from poorer districts.
Conservative legislators have often publicly supported consolidating some of the state’s districts as a way to save money. Bowen’s bill would require all districts in the same county to combine their procurement, personnel, and financial services into a single office. He said it would help save administrative costs.
I don’t want it to be called consolidation, but think of it as “shared services.” You don’t see banks with a home office in every town. You don’t see grocery stores with more than one home office.
The bill will not pass this year, as it is too late in the session. Bowen and others will continue to tweak it over the summer and fall to prepare for 2012. There are other concerns they will have to address.
Under the legislation, each office could not have more than one administrator and 10 employees. South Carolina Department of Education spokesman Jay Ragley said his office likes the idea, but he urged legislators to wait until education officials ensured it matched other parts of state law.
We might (as a General Assembly) have mandated… more than 10 people in a central office to do a program, or because of statute. That’s a concern of ours, simply because we’re trying to do a whole top-down review of exactly what we, as a state level, (are) telling our districts they have to have.
The South Carolina Education Association says it likes centralizing procurement services, but thinks districts should keep their independence in financial and personnel matters. Executive Director Roger Smith raised those concerns in Wednesday’s hearing.
In many cases, there’s a history to the personnel that (are) within the district. There’s also financial needs within those schools and districts that will be unique to that district, versus it being a… place where central decisions could be made.
Bowen said he is willing to work on the legislation some more to prepare for next year.
We need to get people to start thinking. If we all start thinking, all of our brains combined together can come up with a better solution than any one of us can. It’s time that we started thinking outside of the box. If this is the impetus for that, we’ve made some accomplishments here today.
At least one district is already planning to merge. Sumter County will combine its two districts over the summer.