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Sumter School District Board of Trustees goes 10-for-10 with unanimous votes on Monday

Chairman: 'Nothing magical or mystical' about mark of unity, 'relationships have just improved'

BY BRUCE MILLS bruce@theitem.com
Posted 12/12/19

Ten motions, 10 unanimous votes.

That was how Sumter School District's Board of Trustees voted Monday night after returning from executive session on various agenda items.

That has never happened with the current school board, and members have …

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Sumter School District Board of Trustees goes 10-for-10 with unanimous votes on Monday

Chairman: 'Nothing magical or mystical' about mark of unity, 'relationships have just improved'

Posted

Ten motions, 10 unanimous votes.

That was how Sumter School District's Board of Trustees voted Monday night after returning from executive session on various agenda items.

That has never happened with the current school board, and members have never been more openly united, but the chairman says there is no special intent in the unity.

Nine of the motions were decided with 9-0 votes by the nine-member board, and one, a first reading on a new policy relating to school visitors, was 8-0 with one abstention by Area 4 Trustee Johnny Hilton.

The 10 motions ranged from approving next school year's district calendar and a standard monthly personnel report to appointing three trustees to a newly formed special ad hoc committee to first readings on a couple new policies to approving district goals and objectives for this school year as laid out by first-year Superintendent Penelope Martin-Knox.

That's quite a change for the board that has been marked by split votes on a number of key issues for  more than a year since it saw a five-member changeover in the November 2018 midterm election

In reviewing board minutes and voting to date, Monday was the first time the revamped board has had a meeting with so many motions and was still unanimous on all of them since taking office.

Just last month, the trustees voted 6-3 on whether to continue to allow community members to serve on its standing committees. The board had been debating that issue since its first meeting a year ago and delayed second reading on the matter for six months.

Board Chairman the Rev. Ralph Canty said there was no concerted effort over previous meetings to appear united in that sense and that "there isn't anything magical or mystical about [the unity] now."

The trustees have matured in their relationship, simply have a better understanding of each other and share a common vision now, he said.

"Timing is everything," Canty said, "and, over the course of time, relationships have just improved. That does not mean we won't have split votes from time to time, but it does suggest that there is far less tension, or anxiousness, between us and our views about the district."

After the meeting, Canty said the full board will have a special gathering with Sumter County Council next week in an effort to initiate monthly sessions between liaison groups of each entity on the school district's financial budget needs going forward.

For three straight years, county council has turned down the district's requested millage rate increases. The district is just now coming out of a financial crisis that was discovered in 2016 when an official audit revealed $6.2 million in overspending. This year's audit was officially released in front of the public at this week's 10-motion meeting, showing the general fund balance on the right upward trend toward being released from a state-declared financial emergency.

Canty said there was no correlation between the board unity at the meeting and upcoming talks with council. He said trustees have desired to seek dialogue with county council for months on budget matters.

Additionally, Canty said four public charter schools that have been proposed in Sumter County this year have nothing to do with the unanimous votes.

"I don't think they have anything to anything to do with forging the union or determining the votes cast in this last meeting," Canty said. "The charter matters, in my view, are isolated and not related to our overall relationship."