COLUMBIA — The School District of Pickens County has become embroiled in a battle with parents and residents of Pickens County concerning the consolidation of schools and Sen. Larry Martin has introduced a bill at the state level, which if passed, would give local voters the power of a referendum.
According to Martin, the bill is designed to bring the right to petition for a referendum concerning school board decisions, such as the closing or consolidation of schools, which has never been available before, and although he is not convinced it will be voted on during this term, he feels “it is a time for at least the discussion” of the possible legislation.
“This bill follows portions of the Home Rule Act, which allows voters some recourse on an ordinance they may oppose and if they receive enough petition signatures would allow for a referendum for voters in the county to overturn if they see fit,” Martin said. “Items the local school boards take up aren’t traditionally available for this type of voter action, such as school consolidations or closings.”
The bill is designed to accommodate the time frames under which school boards and their trustees must work, setting a late October date for decisions such as consolidation, in order the issue may be addressed if a the requirement for a referendum is met.
Otherwise, according to Martin, issues would be two years old in some cases before they could be addressed, should enough petition signatures be gathered.
“The voters in the county would have to show a strong sentiment through the petition and by setting the October date would make it possible for the community to respond before the next school year has begun,” he stated. “The state delegation and legislators aren’t a court of appeals and have no way of redressing these concerns and this would create a sort of court of appeals in these cases where members of the community feel strongly about a school board’s decision.”
Ten percent of the registered voters within the county would be required to create a referendum.
“To me it just make a lot of sense to allow that type of review for voters and parents and this seems to be the best way to do it,” Martin said. “A recall wouldn’t be appropriate for the trustees as the voters who may wish to recall an elected board member may find the trustee is from a different district, such as in this case in Pickens County.”
Even though Martin does not see the bill passing this session he believes it could gain ground after having discussed with others, including the Chairman of the Education Committee, and has found interest from other legislators in the discussion surrounding the proposed legislation.
The Senator also stressed this proposal was in no way an attempt to overturn the recent consolidations of Ambler Elementary or A.R. Lewis Elementary by the SDPC board.
“I didn’t introduce this bill to reverse the school board’s decision in anyway. This is not similar to the Coal Ash Bill but an option for parents and voters moving forward,” Martin said. “The voters and residents of Pickens County have and will be paying for the schools and facilities which were built, even if they are vacant, they could have a means of addressing their concerns.”
Reach D. C. Moody at 864-855-0355.