Future of city’s schools is budding controversy
(Updated, 3:30 p.m. Feb. 24) Charleston County Councilman Henry Darby is between a rock and a hard place when it comes to the budding controversy about whether North Charleston’s schools should split from the Charleston County School District.
Darby, principal of North Charleston High School, also represents part of the city on county council. On Thursday, news broke that state Rep. Marvin Pendarvis, D-North Charleston, was planning to file a bill to create a new school district after North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey told reporters the day before that the city’s legal department was researching what needed to be done to start its own school district. Also Thursday, CCSD Superintendent Donald R. Kennedy held a press conference to say he wanted to meet with North Charleston officials to discuss future plans
In a statement today to the City Paper, Darby agreed that collaboration to solve challenges with North Charleston schools was the first step, but says being in his dueling positions put him in a precarious spot.
“I have a civic duty as an elected official,” he told the City Paper. “Professionally and politically, I could not articulate concerns for either side at this particular time. I will do what is needed within the confines of which I find myself — to do the best I can for my students as a principal; and presently, to do what I can from within as opposed to publicly.”
Darby added he could see the disparities between North Charleston schools and other county schools that Summey and Pendarvis have mentioned.
“I have never been a rabble-rouser but will speak out if conscience dictates,” Darby said. “Is all fair? No sir, as there are glaring disparities and inequalities with the Title I schools throughout the district. But I believe in deliberation and collaboration as a first step.”
Pendarvis is calling for the formation of the “North Charleston School District” and the abolition of the Charleston County Constituent School District 4 in a bill that has been drafted for consideration by the state legislature. Pendarvis, who said the bill hasn’t been formally entered into the record in Columbia, said the draft legislation is largely in response to a controversial 2022 proposal, “Reimagine Schools,” which would have allowed a third-party operator to run certain schools in the district.
“There was a lot of pushback from members of the community because they didn’t believe this was the right way to address the problems facing our schools and that it would be a gateway to privatization,” Pendarvis said. “The schools they were targeting were primarily in North Charleston, so that started the conversation.”
Pendarvis said he believed schools in North Charleston weren’t receiving the same quality of education that other students in the district were getting — ideas that Summey has echoed. Pendarvis added that a good result for the schools would be for CCSD to step up and treat North Charleston’s schools more equitably.
Pendarvis told the City Paper Thursday he was considering a bid for North Charleston mayor, a position that Summey is said to be considering not running for in the fall, though Pendarvis said this was not a factor in his proposal for North Charleston schools.
Meanwhile, Kennedy said he didn’t hold his Thursday press conference to refute what Summey said about the city’s schools.
“Moving forward, it is my intent to collaborate with the mayor … and make sure that we process this the best way we can for the kids. Perhaps there is a feasibility study that needs to be done to make any kind of move that negatively impacts our students.”
Kennedy said he was not surprised by the concerns raised by Summey.
“If you look at North Charleston, there are a lot of issues that need to be resolved, and not just those associated with what happens in the classroom,” Kennedy said, speaking to the city’s crime rate. “It is not a surprise to me when anyone expresses concern to me about children not performing well.”
In January, Summey issued a letter to the Charleston County School District (CCSD) in which he expressed concerns regarding the relationship between his city’s schools and the district. In the letter, Summey said CCSD receives “approximately over 21%” of its property tax revenue from North Charleston properties, speaking to the significance of the municipality’s role in CCSD’s finances.
Kennedy also spoke Thursday on the financial impact of the potential move on both CCSD and North Charleston residents and students.
“If North Charleston pulls out, that’s going to have a big impact,” Kennedy said. “That’s not just my speculation. I’ve seen this elsewhere in the country … we end up with the haves and have-nots, and most of those students that were struggling then are struggling more so now.”
Kennedy said he planned to reach out personally to Summey and other various elected officials as well as principals and parents who would be impacted by the change.
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