Opinion: School board needs more transparency, public input


At the meeting at Furman, the Sumter School Board voted to reopen one school and consider reopening another - before ever determining how their plan for closing helped the district in any way - or what it would cost to reopen schools or how education might be improved for all students at the closed schools as well as the places where the students are now attending. Weren't these schools closed, in part, because of the financial mess the prior superintendent made which now plagues the district? The district submitted a plan to remedy the situation including closing these schools. Now, in part because of the plan to reopen schools, the state superintendent is declaring a fiscal emergency in our district.

When I spoke, I focused on what I believe are huge shortcomings with this board - transparency, accountability and public input.

The board should meet once a month to hear from the public. No other business. Listen to 5-minute presentations from anyone from Sumter who wants to speak. The board oversees $1,100 for each and every person in Sumter County, over $130,000,000/year. It's not their money, it's the public's money. Listen to us, to all of us, not just the loudest few.

We need to have more public involvement with talented people such as Bobby Anderson, Patti Wilson, Greg Thompson and Ben Griffith. If the board had listened to them almost three years ago, we might not be in this mess. We need more public involvement, not less.

Every major change in school policy should be accompanied by a fiscal impact statement so board members as well as the public can judge based on facts, not "gut" feelings.

Although only the chairman can speak for the board, there is no reason why each member should not publish the reasons for their votes that have been judged by the state Department of Education as getting a grade of D, soon to be an F if we don't get the public more informed and more involved.

And lastly, what will it cost the taxpayers of Sumter to appeal this declaration and, if you win the appeal, how will that help education in Sumter? Win or lose, how much will this cost? Each member who voted to appeal, please answer - not me - the taxpaying citizens of Sumter.



Editor's note: Phil Leventis is a former state senator who was chair of the Legislative delegation in 2008 that initiated the consolidation of the two school districts, the first major change in the districts since over 25 districts in Sumter were consolidated to two in the early 1950s.