After a public participation period featuring school bus drivers and food-service workers expressing concerns about pay, Sumter School District's Board of Trustees debated its committee system after a two-hour executive session Monday night.
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At about 9:45 p.m., after 20 minutes of open discussion on the matter, the trustees voted 6-3 to keep public members on standing committees. That proposal passed first reading in the spring and included charters written by Chairman the Rev. Ralph Canty, though other board members contributed their own ideas on how the committee system should be composed.
Currently, public members only serve on the board's Finance Committee. After Monday's vote, the board will add other members of the public to the board's two other standing committees - Facilities and Policy.
Those public members are to be subject-matter experts from the Sumter community in their respective fields, whether finance, facilities or policy.
A new Citizens Advisory Committee, composed of numerous community members, will also be created and likely meet quarterly with board members.
The official charters still need fine-tuning, according to Policy Committee Chairman the Rev. Daryl McGhaney.
Trustees voting in favor of second and final reading of the proposal included Canty, McGhaney, Brian Alston, Johnny Hilton, Barbara Jackson and Shawn Ragin. Board members voting against were Frank Baker, Matthew "Mac" McLeod and Sherril Ray.
The board's Finance Committee has been operating without an official charter, and public community members were appointed by the committee's chairman. Now, the process for the public to serve on all committees will include approval by the full board. That means five trustees' votes will be needed for a recommended community member to serve on any of the four committees.
Several board members expressed concern during the last couple months with public members serving on standing committees. That concern was based on advice given to them in late September from the South Carolina School Boards Association, its lobbying association. At a workshop, an association staff attorney informed trustees on the rarity of boards having committees and how even rarer it is to have public involvement on committees and potential legal ramifications.
During the open discussion, Baker, one of the dissenting votes and the district's former superintendent who retired in July 2017 in the wake of a district financial fallout, said according to the state association Sumter is the only district in the state to have public citizens serving on committees. Because citizen members are not vested and bonded by the district, he said, it can create legal concerns.
Canty was one of the last board members to speak Monday. He said if the board removes public members from standing committees, he thinks the district will "lose a certain edge." He questioned other trustees as to what's wrong if the district is the exception in the state on committees.
Canty said the district and the board generally want the public's support and need all the expertise they can get. He said he thinks the advancement of the district was at stake with the decision.
"We want public in our schools. We want them to come read to our children," Canty said. "We want them to assist when we have field trips. We want them to come to our games. We want them to support what we are doing. And, when we look at the age of our school buildings, we need to be replacing buildings. There will never be a bond referendum passed by nine people. If we are going to build a state-of-the-art school system and build new schools, we need the public. The more present the public is, I feel, in whatever we're doing, the more the public will have ownership in what we're doing. Then, we are all the better."
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