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Former Sumter school board candidate calls out trustees for distancing public

Linginfelter says committees should remain intact in public participation; Williams disagrees

BY BRUCE MILLS
bruce@theitem.com
Posted 10/22/19

A former Sumter school board at-large seat candidate from last year and U.S. Air Force veteran highlighted the public participation portion of last week's trustees meeting by calling out board members for currently trying to eliminate the public …

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Former Sumter school board candidate calls out trustees for distancing public

Linginfelter says committees should remain intact in public participation; Williams disagrees

Posted

A former Sumter school board at-large seat candidate from last year and U.S. Air Force veteran highlighted the public participation portion of last week's trustees meeting by calling out board members for currently trying to eliminate the public from standing committees and their other previous actions. But, another community activist said she supported the board's efforts to eliminate committees.

A former local Realtor who earned 5.8% of the vote in the November 2018 at-large seats' election, Jay Linginfelter said the majority of the revamped, nine-member school board has done nothing but undermine the public's trust instead of building it after five new trustees came on the board in the mid-term election. He noted many of them spoke of wanting increased transparency on the board during their campaigns, but "this board has tried to do nothing of the sort."

Previously, standing committee members have been appointed simply by the committee chairman, and Linginfelter noted advisory board committees have always made recommendations to the full board, but the trustees have the final vote in all matters.

Later, during last week's meeting, a motion to allow the public to serve on committees - including Finance, Facilities and Policy - even subject to majority board approval failed on a split 4-4 vote, with one abstention.

At the end of the night, the only motion that passed was to defer action on policy back to the Policy Committee for further study.

The state School Boards Association has said it doesn't have an official recommendation concerning committees, but an association attorney briefed the full board at a workshop recently that it was rare for boards in the state to have committees and even rarer for the public to serve on them.

Another school boards association representative noted, unlike board members who are elected officials, community members are not bound by ethics laws and are not insured or bonded by the district. As a result, potential legal issues could arise if they share confidential information, she said.

In his comments, Linginfelter said trustees make the committee rules and could require these things of anyone serving on a committee. If a community member doesn't want to comply, then the board could simply say they can't serve, he said.

He said the trustees could require the district to pay the fees to bond and insure public committee members and noted the board in the spring ran up $26,000 in legal fees to appeal the state superintendent's "fiscal emergency" declaration after it tried to reopen Mayewood Middle School, which had been closed by the previous board less than one year earlier.

"It may cost the district a little bit of money to insure or bond those public members," Linginfelter said, "but you sure don't mind blowing money in other areas."

He added he was very concerned about where the board was trying to lead Sumter County and also referenced that local private-business owner and Sumter Development Board Chairman Greg Thompson is in the midst of applying to start a public charter school in the county to compete with the district in a couple years.

"How is that going to negatively impact the district from the potential loss of some of its best teachers and lower enrollment of students," Linginfelter asked the board. "Keeping the public at arm's distance is not what you need to be doing, but rather bringing it closer."

COUNTERPOINT

Community-activist Brenda Williams also spoke, but she said she's in favor of the board eliminating its three standing committees, since those members are appointed and not elected.

A constant supporter of the new board, Williams said she agrees with a new trustee's recent recommendation to do away with the permanent, regular-meeting, committees and allow the public to serve on, as needed, ad-hoc committees, when the board has a specific need for assistance on special projects.

"This is a democracy," Williams said, "but when those committees are there it was a dictatorship. I feel ad-hoc committees are fine to involve the community."

Community members Jackie Hughes and Brenda Bethune also spoke during public participation. Bethune is president of a county retired educators' association and detailed its work locally.