WINNSBORO — Contentiousness over items included or left off of the agenda failed to prevent the school board from reaching a consensus on several issues in its Tuesday meeting.
One area of mutual agreement occurred as the meeting began. The traditional invocation was replaced by a moment of silence. This change was made as a result of efforts of the American Civil Liberties Union in South Carolina.
According to School Board Chairperson, Andrea Harrison, “The ACLU has been on a campaign with school districts in South Carolina about prayer being said and that being a violation of civil liberties. To avoid unnecessary confusion or headaches, we changed to a moment of silence, given that we are at a public meeting where people of different faiths may be in attendance.”
The meeting also addressed district finances, authority to modify the curriculum, employee vacation policy, board approval of class trips and the status on choosing an architect for constructing the district’s comprehensive high school.
However, before the board would move into executive session, board member Annie McDaniel attempted to raise several issues that were not on the agenda. That action was not in line with protocols for conducting meetings.
“I think that is a conversation between board members and the superintendent and needs to go on the agenda for the future. That’s not an agenda item and I don’t feel that needs to be for public discussion,” board member Beth Reid said.
McDaniel countered that she simply wanted the items included in the minutes, however Reid did not give ground reasserting that the board should stick to the agenda at hand.
A June 2012 appellate court ruling advised South Carolina governing bodies, such as school boards, that they are not to modify an agenda once it has been made available to the public prior to a meeting, and they are not to modify an agenda during a meeting.
As a compromise with McDaniel, Harrison proposed that she get with Superintendent J.R. Green to make sure he received the email containing McDaniels’ concerns which she said were relayed to her by constituents, though not necessarily members of her own district. Then Green and McDaniel could have an opportunity to discuss her issues, which may or may not have been issues affecting all of the school board.
McDaniel alleged that the refusal to enter her items into the minutes was an attempt to hide information from the public watching the meeting via television.
Harrison assured her that was not the case and council member Beth Reid concurred saying that is was fine for McDaniel to have a discussion and bring information back to the board from the superintendent, but that her intent to address those items was not allowed during the board’s open discussion time.
Your bringing back that information to the superintendent, I think, is fine but if it is your intention to address it then that is not needed to be done in this discussion session.
“Go through the channels of communications and talk to Superintendent Green about that,” Reid said.
“As board members there should not be an issue to contact Mr. Green. That is without question. My decision for not leaving those items on the agenda was not an effort to circumvent anything.All those questions could have been directed to Mr. Green for answers prior to this board meeting,” Harrison said. “Mr. Green and I sat down to review the items but the agenda already had been done because the items were not requested until Friday.”
Harrison said the information needed to be elaborated so the board could discuss the items with some kind of comprehension and that McDaniel provide some information and guidance as to why to place the items on the agenda.
“Bottom line, I did not want any fly balls to hit anyone upside the head in the meeting,” Harrison said. “Unfortunately we have questions and staff is not prepared. It makes them look incompetent when they are not really incompetent. It is just a last minute question that they are not able to answer.”
The items were not mentioned in executive session which followed and dealt with legal and personnel matters.
Harrison assured those present that the board understood the need for McDaniel to communicate with her constituents and that if some of her items were not on the agenda for the next meeting it would be because Green will have already answered McDaniels’ questions.
Green encouraged the public to come to him directly if they have any questions about curriculum or any other operations the district is doing and he reiterated that he has an open door policy for the public.
“I am here to run the district. Any time I get a call I return it. I am very responsive,” Green said.
The matter of agenda and protocol seemed to be resolved at that point.
“To alter an agenda at a meeting is unfair to the public,” Harrison later said. “A topic may require that certain folks in the community come to address the issue. The agenda provides a foundation or explanation of what the meeting is to be about, so to change an agenda changes the dynamics of the meeting.”
In other news, the district announced a monthly newsletter that will be placed at strategic locations around the county so parents, community members and citizens have another tool to stay informed about their schools.
- School board member Henry Miller said he appreciated the newsletter being produced to “combat false information with truth and facts.”
- School board unanimously approved two FCHS beta club trips, an October trip to Concord, N.C. and a February trip to Myrtle Beach.
- Fairfield School District Finance Director Kevin Robinson presented the August financial report and explained the final reading of a policy to change the limit for transactions requiring board approval from a limit of $1,000 to a limit of $5,000. The board approved the change by a 6-0-1 vote with McDaniel abstaining.
- The board approved 7-0 the final reading on a revision to the district’s GDC staff policy regarding staff vacation days and holidays among classified and non-classified personnel. The policy will permit classified and non-classified personnel to carry over 45 days of sick leave. Prior to the policy change non-classified personnel only could carry over 10 days.
- Green brought the revision of IG Curriculum Development, Adoption and Review before the board for second and final reading. The board unanimously approved the changes to the policy which will allow the superintendent the ability to modify and add to the curriculum without needing board approval. Deletions of curriculum content still need board approval, though.
Senior trip changes
The senior trip was presented by Senior Class President Stephanie Brennan. She informed the board that the senior class at Fairfield Central High School wants to change its senior trip from a trip to Florida to a cruise.
Brennan outlined several possibilities and gave prices. Green recommended the measure be tabled until the next board meeting to allow him time to meet with the senior class and with administrators about the trip concerns such as supervision and chaperons before a final decision is made. Green noted that many school district’s no longer sanction and sponsor senior class trips because of the liability issues involved.
The next meeting of the Fairfield County School Board occurs Oct. 16 at Geiger Elementary in Ridgeway.