PICKENS COUNTY – With a public hearing set to debate adding a seventh seat to the Pickens County School Board, local residents say several issues need to be considered.
The public forum, set for Oct. 22 at Pickens County Career and Technology Center, will allow state legislative delegation to take the communities temperature on the topic.
“Easley needs more representation,” current Board Chairman Judy Edwards said. “We pay more of the tax base, we have more of the population base but we have less representation on the board.”
Sen. Larry Martin (R-Pickens) has drawn up a new map a county that would re-establish district lines to “better represent the attendance areas.” Some do not think that is necessary.
“The board has worked really well,” Pickens County GOP Chairman Phillip Bowers said. “We haven’t laid off any teachers like the former board did. We haven’t had to raise taxes. Our student performance is good. I haven’t heard anyone, other than some folks around Easley, complaining about the current school board.”
Easley Mayor Larry Bagwell said Easley has lacked representation in the past.
“In my mind, the City of Easley’s representation is watered down considerably with the way the lines are drawn,” Bagwell said. “About 38 percent of the tax money and student ratio is in this (attendance) area and yet we are not represented that strongly on the board.”
Bagwell said the current composition of the school board allows for two seats representing Pickens (Pickens and Dacusville) and two seats representing Clemson (Six Mile and Central).
“It’s a situation where the biggest population is not getting fair representation,” Bagwell said. “I think it’s time the legislative delegation gets together and does something about it. It’s way past due.”
Bowers said he does not agree with the idea that one board member only represents one area.
“To think that a board member would just focus on their specific students in their specific area is a little bit ridiculous,” Bowers said. “If we’re going to say that each individual looks after their own particular area, we would never be able to get stuff done. I think these board members care about students all across the county.”
Delegation members have mentioned one of the reasons for the change could possibly be to break any potential 3-3 ties.
“I agree with our delegation,” Bagwell said. “You have to have an odd number. We have an odd number on city council and most boards are an odd number.”
Bowers said if the delegation does anything, he hopes they cut a school board seat to reduce the board to five.
“There are two options,” Bowers said. “The first would be to leave the board alone and the second would be to reduce the board in size. I’ve served on a lot of boards, and my experience has been that the smaller boards are more effective.”
School Trustee Alex Saitta said there is no need for the change.
“There is no need for the delegation to change the structure of the school board. Like the six member county council, which has worked fine for decades, the structure of the six member board equally represents all areas of the county as federal law requires,” Saitta said.
Bagwell said the current system, however, simply is not working.
“I know people say you change the makeup of the board at the polls, but that hasn’t happened and it’s likely not to happen,” Bagwell said. “You want to get people who understand the problems within the district on the board.
“We’re looking for a way to have fair representation and that might come through redrawing the lines,” he said. “I think that would help settle some of the confusion that goes on with the school board.”
Bowers said he doesn’t agree with the notion that Easley is unfairly represented.
“In a way, it’s unfair (to add a seat for Easley) when some other areas only have one,” he said. “I don’t understand the argument that Easley is not adequately represented.”
The public hearing is set for 6:30 p.m.