COLUMBIA --- A bill that would make it easier to reduce Aiken County Public School District staff has reached an impasse because of regional differences in the delegation, a split among school board members and new opposition by a Saluda County lawmaker.
The bill, S. 442, introduced by Aiken Sen. Greg Ryberg and co-sponsored by Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, would give the Aiken County school board the discretion to eliminate any of the district's five area superintendents.
Supporters say the funding flexibility is critically needed at a time of extreme fiscal uncertainty. Opponents say the move could deprive neighborhoods and communities of their local school offices.
"The issue to me is it doesn't force anything," said Mr. Ryberg, noting that he has no motive to eliminate area superintendents. "It puts the decision where it ought to be, and that is with the local school district, not the delegation."
But "home rule" is in the eye of the beholder.
"I would leave it in the hands of the school district to decide if they want that flexibility," said Rep. Bill Clyburn, D-Aiken. But, he added, "If they don't oppose it, I'll vote for it. ... Let the local people decide."
But the school board is not likely to announce a clear direction.
In March, the school board was split 4-4 on whether to oppose the bill.
Mr. Ryberg has repeatedly introduced the legislation but had never won the support of his Senate colleagues until this year.
But now, with one week left in the session, it's the House delegation that is deadlocked.
"I'm very uncomfortable with it," said the delegation chairman, Rep. Roland Smith, R-Warrenville.
"The area that I represent, the people in the area, they have the local office they can go to for school business or a disciplinary problem with a student, or whatever it may be."
One of the district's 41 schools, Ridge Spring-Monetta Elementary/Middle School, is located in Saluda County and educates about 660 students from Aiken, Saluda, Edgefield and Lexington counties.
So on Wednesday, Mr. Smith moved Mr. Ryberg's bill, which was stewing in the Aiken County delegation, to the House Committee on Education and Public Works. The legislation will now have to go to the full House as a statewide bill affecting two counties, Aiken and Saluda, Mr. Smith said.
But unlike the Senate, all House members have a right to vote on any piece of legislation before the body.
Mr. Ryberg said it's unfair for members who have little or no representation in the district to have an equal say over the issue of giving the Aiken County Public School District Board authority to the administrative areas.
Sarita Chourey can be reached at (803) 727-4257 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
AIKEN COUNTY SCHOOLS
The district employs a superintendent, a deputy superintendent, two associate superintendents and five assistant superintendents, who are in charge of specific regions within the school district. It is the sixth-largest district in the state, with nearly 25,000 students.