“They’re doing a thorough investigation,” said State Sen. Creighton Coleman, who introduced the legislation along with Rep. Boyd Brown in January. “I applaud it and welcome it and we’ll see where it goes.”
A letter from the Justice Department dated May 10 listed four items it desires in order to clear the legislation under Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Among those items was a more detailed description of how Coleman and Brown determined the legislation was necessary, including any alternatives considered and input from the community.
Coleman said he has addressed this issue with the DOJ, providing them with a list of community leaders – white and black – with whom he conferred prior to penning the legislation.
The DOJ also requested the basis for the provision in the bills that calls for 70 percent of the district’s budget to be devoted to the classroom.
“That number came from the State Department of Education,” Coleman said. “It’s not some number that I just made up.”
Additionally, Coleman said, the definition of “classroom instructional expenditures” is fairly broad.
The DOJ has also asked for other examples of previous similar situations in South Carolina and their results, and election data for Fairfield County dating back to the year 2000.
According to the DOJ, once all the information is received, they will have 60 days in which to render a decision.
Brown said he felt like the fact that they were giving the matter such serious consideration was a positive sign.
The bills propose to establish an independent, five-person finance committee to oversee the district’s budgeting process, as well as expanding the number of school board members from seven to nine. The two additional board members, like the members of the finance committee, would be appointed by the local legislative delegation.
According to the bill, the powers of the newly created finance committee “include, but are not limited to:
• approve all pay and salary schedules, except those set by the state;
• approve budget transfers during the school year that move funds from one budget category to another;
• approve across-the-board pay increases, bonuses and cost of living raises;
• mandate spending cuts, furloughs, or other spending reduction programs;
• set a fund balance target commensurate with sound accounting principles;
• approve all district borrowing of funds, including tax anticipation notes and bonds; and
• approve unbudgeted district expenditures and mandate spending cuts in other areas to make up for these expenditures.”
A lawsuit was filed in March by Fairfield County residents Carnell Murphy and Lionel Washington to stop the legislation. That suit has been put on hold until the Justice Department can make a ruling.