The Charleston County School District Board, on a 7-3 vote at last week's board meeting, finally made the difficult decision to shutter Lincoln Middle-High School. After weeks of dealing with the revelation that the school district managed to wind up $18 million in the hole last year, the closing of the McClellanville school represents another in a series of hard choices the district has had to make in order to get Charleston County schools back on track.
But there's one option they won't consider, even though it's the one they should have started with: the mass firing of upper-level administrators followed by the resignation of the entire school board. No more finger pointing, no more excuses, no more studies, no more audits — just pack your bags and go.
That might sound harsh, but it's really the single best place to start if the citizens of Charleston County have any hope of keeping their public school system from collapsing or turning into a public-private partnership or another pet project of the Gates Foundation or Mark Zuckerburg. Public education should not be a function of charitable donations any more than any other public service, whether it's the police or the parks and rec department.
If my proposal is enacted and the negligent parties are dismissed — the Charleston NAACP has already called for the resignation of the board — some administrators will no doubt have jobs lined up in other districts soon enough, since running school systems into the ground is now a cottage industry in this country. As for the board members, there are probably plenty of other public offices they can run for, preferably ones where they don't have to worry about hard stuff — like losing $18 million.
So far there hasn't been a lot of responsibility taken for this apparent lack of anything even vaguely resembling stewardship of the schools. Instead, there's been vague murmurs about numbers being obfuscated — which sounds really, really illegal and yet no charges have been filed — and denials of the same. Of course, former CCSD Chief Financial Officer Michael Bobby, who was for a time doing double duty as CFO and superintendent, also resigned, while the school district has made "significant changes to leadership based on the findings," according to a quote from board member Todd Garret in The Post and Courier. There was also an audit — it cost a mere $80,000 more, of course — that apparently laid out how the budget deficit happened as far as numbers are concerned, but failed to illustrate why it wasn't noticed.
Regardless of the causes, an $18-million budget overrun is a massive failure both in the management of the school system on the administrative side and in the oversight of the system from the elected side. Both are equally inexcusable, and making it up through cuts that hurt people who are not responsible for the problem is utterly reprehensible.
Of course, the budget isn't CCSD's only problem. There's also the ongoing issue of neglect at certain schools, physically as well as financially, and the grotesque expenditure of almost $11 million in federal grant money on "consultants and a top-heavy bureaucracy of teacher coaches and evaluators" instead of on actual teachers, a troubling fact reported by the P&C. Yet it seems as if few will see any fallout from this debacle. At best, some sacrificial lamb will be offered up to face charges of financial impropriety in the hopes that the people will put down their pitchforks and quietly return home.
After all, it's highly doubtful this outcome could be anything other than expected. The self-fulfilling prophecies of school choice are finally bearing fruit in Charleston County. A school like the rural Lincoln Middle-High School with less than 150 students costs more to operate per student than Mt. Pleasant's massive Wando High School, which nearly 4,000 students call home. For years, the board has eyed Lincoln as a candidate for cuts, so it was no surprise when the board voted to close it, even though they voted to increase the millage rate by 9.6 mills.
Even without the recent budget crisis, the Charleston County School District board and administrators have stood by and watched as certain schools rot and fall apart and have repeatedly promised to help, only to come up short when the time came to deliver assistance. Anyone who thinks that this is not part of a system designed to fundamentally alter how education in America works is sadly mistaken. And anyone who doesn't see how this is all part of the larger machinations to destroy our already paltry public service sector must be willfully blind.