PICKENS COUNTY – Community members sparred over an issue that could change the face of the Pickens County School Board Tuesday night.
Pickens County Legislative Delegation, comprised of Sen. Larry Martin (R), Rep. Davey Hiott (R), Rep. Phil Owens (R) and Rep. B.R. Skelton (R), hosted a public forum at Pickens County Career and Technology Center, allowing local residents to voice their opinion on potentially adding a seventh seat to the board.
The topic circles around talks of redrawing attendance area lines throughout the county.
“The issue we’re dealing with is simply about fair representation,” Kevin Kay, an Easley resident, said. “Easley has 38 percent of the student body and they basically have one vote. Pickens has less than 30 percent of the student body, but essentially has two votes. Someone that lives less than a mile and a half from Easley High School cannot vote for the representative that’s in their attendance zone.”
Several speakers opposing an additional school board member voiced the comment, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”
“Our district is performing well. Our school board is fairly well represented with six members. The addition of a seventh school board member is absolutely unnecessary,” Pickens resident Dan Winchester said. “Our school district’s organization of its board is not broken. Don’t tamper with it and don’t try to micromanage it.”
Arguments in favor of adding another seat stated the current six member board puts votes at risk of failing due to a 3-3 tie.
“There have been hundreds of votes since we’ve had six members,” School board trustee Alex Saitta said during the meeting, highlighting the positive things the current board has accomplished with six members. “Seven votes have been a tie and six were reconciled that meeting or the meeting after. You do have some tie votes but they (get resolved).”
A current school board member said the issue is much greater than tie votes.
“Are the four high school attendance areas adequately represented with the current board arrangement?” School board trustee Jim Shelton asked. “The honest, objective answer to that is no. People want to vote for a person that lies within their high school attendance area. Under the current arrangement, we have one trustee in the Easley attendance area, three in the Pickens attendance area and two in the Daniel attendance area.”
Some in the community suggested talks of adding another school board member stem from a vote that caused Gettys Middle School renovations to be knocked off the building program agenda earlier this year. District plans for a second middle school in Easley were quickly terminated by the board after it was realized enough funds would not be available to complete the full renovation.
“The major reason for people asking for this change in the school board is to get a majority on the school board so that we can build another school,” Junius Smith said. “You can call it anything you want, but that’s what (this is about).”
Others in the community agreed with Smith, but said the issue is much more problematic.
“Easley missed out on its second middle school because it was last on the list,” Alex Dye said. “As a result, my children will suffer. Anybody that thinks it’s not broken has not been in Gettys Middle School. Unfortunately Easley didn’t get the better end of the deal and we feel like that’s a result of the current structure.”
Proponents of the new idea said the issue boils down to fairness.
“We are a growing community,” Easley Mayor Larry Bagwell said of his city. “We’re not asking for special treatment, we’re just asking to be treated fairly.”
Pickens County Council Chairman Neil Smith said each school board member should represent the county as a whole, regardless of what district they represent.
“The real issue is that we have to have our school board doing the right thing for the entire group,” Smith said. “If we add this seventh (seat) and we get an elected school board who does not represent your interest or does not come off as the type of board member you want, is that what we’re trying to achieve?”
Martin said the delegation will take the public’s comments into consideration, and will likely hold another meeting on the topic before legislative session begins in January.