UPDATE, March 10: Party Chairman John Steinberger says the party voted Monday night to postpone a decision on the resolution until its next meeting on April 13.
The Charleston County Republican Party will probably postpone a vote on a resolution to abolish the Charleston County School District tonight, according to party Chairman John Steinberger.
The motion, which had its first reading at the party’s Feb. 9 meeting, was initially proposed by former school board member Elizabeth Moffly. While the motion is still on the agenda for final approval tonight, Steinberger says the party will likely vote to postpone a vote until its April 13 meeting because Moffly is currently out of town.
“She’s done the research and can present the best arguments,” Steinberger says.
For the record, Steinberger doesn’t like to use the word “abolish” when talking about the proposal, despite the fact that the resolution’s title is “A Resolution to Abolish the Charleston County School District.” “I prefer the term ‘deconsolidate,'” Steinberger says.
If the resolution were to eventually pass into law, it would in fact reverse the consolidation of the school district, which took place under an act of the General Assembly in 1967. At the time, state lawmakers merged the county’s eight autonomous school districts in an effort to lessen inequality of funding between districts.
Now some Charleston County Republicans want to split the district back up, this time into three to five districts. Moffly has said that the idea is to promote local control of school district policy, while Steinberger has said that creating new school districts would save money. Steinberger says tax millage rates would stay the same across the county, and money would be distributed to schools on a per-pupil basis. (The distribution of tax revenue is not specified in the actual resolution.)
Any resolution passed by the county party is nonbinding. The resolution would have to be picked up by a state legislator and introduced as a bill, and at least one Charleston Republican, state Rep. Chip Limehouse, has said he would have to read the proposal before attaching his name to it.
Meanwhile, outside of the Charleston County GOP, opposition is already mounting. Charleston County Democratic Party Chairman Brady Quirk-Garvan says the county GOP “is wasting their time pandering to the right-wing radicals within their party.” He adds, “They are welcome to vote on whatever silly resolutions they want, but the Charleston County Democratic Party is committed to strengthening public education in Charleston.”
State Sen. Marlon Kimpson, a Charleston County Democrat, says he would “use my best efforts to kill that legislation” if it makes it to the General Assembly.
“I do agree, however, that this school board has made some very, very bad decisions, beginning with the termination of Dr. McGinley and the termination of the minority diversity consultant, and I have very little confidence in their ability to make decisions that are in the best interest of the majority of the school children in the district,” Kimpson says. “But I am not in favor of restructuring the constitution of the board for the purported reasons stated by the Republican Party delegation.”
Patrick Hayes, a Drayton Hall Elementary School teacher and founder of the teachers’ advocacy group EdFirstSC, gives the proposal a mixed review. He says the countywide tax revenue distribution plan might be oversimplified since many current funding streams are not allocated on a per-pupil basis, and he says higher-performing districts could siphon away teaching talent from struggling districts elsewhere in the county.
“The premise there is actually kind of sound,” Hayes says. “I’ve worked in districts that were two schools up through Charleston, where we’re at 80 schools. The smaller district, the better run it is, just because the people making decisions are in closer contact with the impact of those decisions and the people who have to execute them.
“With that having been said, I think this has probably been dreamt about more than it’s been thought about. I read some of the online commentary, the back-and-forth with Elizabeth Moffly, and people are bringing up all these issues and concerns, and they keep saying, ‘Well, when we work out these details, it’s going to be fine.’ Well, you need to have those details worked out before you say ‘Let’s do it’ because that makes a big difference in what this is really going to mean.”
The Charleston County GOP meeting will take place tonight at 7 p.m. at North Charleston City Hall. The next meeting is scheduled for the same time and place on April 13.
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