Editorial roundup: July 20, 2018


Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

The Post and Courier

July 18

McMaster vetoes state Conservation Bank's request

With just two staffers, the S.C. Conservation Bank will have about $9 million to buy or conserve land this fiscal year. That's down from $15 million in 2015 and down from about $20 million a few years earlier.

The state's smallest agency, responsible for preserving 300,000 acres over the past 15 years, asked for $220,335 to hire a lawyer and an additional staffer this year, but Gov. Henry McMaster vetoed that request, saying the extra staff wasn't needed.

The Legislature can and should override the veto this fall.

Because the Conservation Bank leverages its funding through public-private partnerships and conservation easements, it has been able to acquire property for an average of $500 per acre, far less than conservation agencies in neighboring states.

Having an in-house lawyer - one is needed for every closing, whether a purchase or conservation easement - is essential for the Conservation Bank to be a good steward of taxpayer dollars.

"It's already the leanest agency in the state," said Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston, who oversaw the creation of the bank in 2002 and led the fight for its reauthorization this past legislative session. "One executive director and a secretary can hardly evaluate all the properties," he said, adding that the bank was also given expanded duties when it was reauthorized.

The Conservation Bank will be working with the state Commerce Department to identify and acquire "mitigation" properties for economic development projects. It will be required to hold public hearings whenever land is acquired and develop a statewide map of conservation priorities. That's a lot of responsibility and diligence, particularly for an agency its size.

Under the reauthorization bill, the bank now relies directly on the Legislature for its funding. Formerly, it received a cut of the state's share of recording fees from real estate transactions.

Changing the funding formula was a necessary compromise as Sen. Campsen sees it. But now, the bank is being asked to do more with less, and it doesn't make sense to scrimp on staffing.

The Conservation Bank is too important to be given short shrift. It has preserved important properties across the state, including Morris Island, parts of the ACE Basin, land around the Angel Oak and farming communities. It has also helped protect Upstate habitats and watersheds. And with no sign of development and population growth letting up, it deserves the legal and administrative support it needs to continue those successes.

Sen. Campsen noted that the first conservation easement secured by the bank preserved land around a key reservoir serving Greenville. Since then, some water utilities along the Savannah River have partnered with the bank to secure easements aimed at protecting their sources of drinking water.

"I was tickled to death. I never dreamed (the Conservation Bank) would be used this way," Mr. Campsen said. "That's the beauty of the competitive bid process - weighing creative proposals."

By overriding the governor's budget veto and funding the two positions, lawmakers would give the Conservation Bank the support it needs to be successful in its expanded mission. And $220,000 is a small ask when it comes to preserving South Carolina's land and ecosystems.

The Times and Democrat

July 17

Four-day school week might not lead to savings, achievement

Just as school district consolidation is touted as a way to save dollars for public education, the concept of moving to a four-day school week is getting more attention around the country.

The change involves giving teachers and students a day off on Fridays. According to the National Conference of State Legislators, approximately 560 districts in 25 states have one or more schools on a four-day schedule.

The change is seen as particularly appealing to rural school districts that require lots of travel by students and teachers. But is it really beneficial?

Advantages are touted as:

- Decreased cost for school utilities and food service provided for staff and students.

- Less expense to transport students to and from school.

- Fewer students missing class time for athletic events when events can be concentrated on Fridays.

- Fewer absences for medical appointments and other events when such can be scheduled on Fridays.

- Easier scheduling for parents since a longer school day four days a week means children arrive home at or near the same time as parents working traditional business hours.

If you're not sold, neither are we.

Some disadvantages:

- Most school days are more than six hours now. Factor in travel time before and after school, and some kids are away from home from nearly daylight to dusk during winter months.

- Savings may not be what they seem. According to the National Education Policy Center, increasing school hours would cost the country an estimated $40 billion. Its study also revealed that extending the school day was the least cost-efficient plan for greater academic achievement; hiring more teachers, increasing remedial programs, reducing class size and implementing more computer facilities all cost less and are more effective.

- More time in class each day does not translate to quality time, as an extended school day could damage student motivation and stamina. According to DeSales University, staying later at school, doing homework in the evening and then returning to school early in the morning could lead to student burnout.

Dan Weber, president of the Association of Mature American Citizens, is not convinced either. He cites the change as harmful for low-income parents relying on subsidized school breakfasts and lunches. The Department of Agriculture says more than half of the nation's high-poverty schools offer breakfasts and lunches to students at no cost.

The benefits of the four-day school week accrue principally to stay-at-home parents and teachers, Weber said. "They would not outweigh the disadvantages for students and households where both parents work."

The bottom line is there is a lack of evidence that a four-day school week with longer days leads to fiscal savings and/or improved student achievement.

The National Education Policy Center's conclusion is on target: Schools should focus on what teachers do with the time allotted instead of how much time they have overall.