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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Constituent School Boards

I went to the Charleston county website to look up how they enroll students. I was wondering what Dr. Goodloe-Johnson had used in her past job to see if I might discern her thinking on the assignment plan. Oddly, I could not find a blessed thing. I searched everywhere and used their search feature and nothing. (Also, no staff directory. We may have a better district website than we think.)

Anyway, what I did find was that they have a 9-person School Board but then they have these regions with something called Constituent School Boards. There is absolutely no explanation of who these folks are or their role but I was intrigued. Has anyone ever heard of this before?

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Here is the link to a blog by teacher in Charleston about the Charleston school disctrict.

(she posted to this blog under Seattle Public Schools names CFO - Seattle PI.)

http://couriercritic.blogspot.com/

and read up on Buist Academy. Very interesting.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Saw Dr. G-J las night and asked her about it. It sounds odd. They have a Board, the same size and term as ours but then each region has a smaller elected board who are in charge of hiring teachers, program placement. She said when it worked it was great but that mostly it was very hard to deal with. No kidding.

Anonymous said...

Seattle just might be better off than Charleston But remember, MG-J didn't do anything while she was in Charleston (3 ½ years) to change or improve public access to the very basic information you didn't find.

Here’s the inside scoop on constituent school districts and constituent boards. They use them in many very large districts. New York City as the largest in the US uses them even though the mayor’s office is now ruling the city-wide super district that ultimately controls them. With roughly 43,000 students and 80 schools, Charleston’s consolidated school district is among the 100 largest in the country. Know that there are roughly 17,000 other school districts in the US that are smaller than Charleston or Seattle.

There are significant geographic differences, too. Charleston currently has an illogically large school district for the type of community is serves. Comparing just enrollment, it's slightly smaller than San Francisco’s district and about the same as Seattle, yet Charleston isn't anywhere near the size of either of those cities. It takes the phrase "consolidated school district" to the extreme. As MG-J has already said on a Seattle talk show, Charleston County School District (CCSD) stretches for as much as 100 miles from north to south along a coastline that includes many wide river separations, islands and other physical barriers. It’s demographically extreme, too. Though there are no “reservations” it does include some of the most urban communities to be found in SC as well as some of the most isolated & rural. Historically its racial breakdown was about 50/50 white to black, but with higher concentrations of poorer minorities in the 3 or 4 most rural districts. The suburban and urban districts have economic and cultural differences that add to this extreme of different needs and different resources.

When CCSD came into existence, it was for Charleston what it might look like if you consolidated all of the school districts in the NW corner of Washington State into one big school district. It might include the off shore islands, run almost up to the Canadian border, south to just short of Tacoma but including SeaTac area communities and east of Lake Washington...throwing in some of the base of Mt. Rainier, too. That may be a little extreme, but you get the picture of what CCSD includes geographically, economically and culturally…just not as many students as you would have if you tried doing this.

In 1968, eight independent school districts in Charleston County were consolidated into a single county-wide district. We were told this was to save money & raise standards of poor rural communities to match the high quality of public schools in the urban & growing suburban areas. (There was another reason, but it wasn’t discussed openly. I’ll explain later.) Keep in mind also the 1960's was the "age of government consolidation"...Jacksonville, FL and Norfolk, VA are prime examples of merging city & county governments into one mega territorial municipality. The urban center is just a small part of what is almost as large & all inclusive as a small country, Luxembourg for example.

Oddly, Charleston’s elected county council has never had a say concerning CCSD financing or management. The two county-wide governmental agencies just have exactly the same area of jurisdiction and share the same tax base. For the record, the old 8 independent school districts (now constituent districts) roughly followed natural geographic borders. To boot these were almost identical to the administrative parishes used for taxation and public services 250 years ago when Charleston was still an English colony. There was some logic to it but the separations also marked some extreme disparities, too. The governing system may have changed since then but most of the geographic and some of the cultural barriers haven't changed at all.

Even if there were expectations for good things to come, getting the legislators (and then the voters) to approve such a large consolidation of power was like trying to herd cats. Organizers first had to get all the different school factions on board with the 1968 consolidation. Certain turfs had to be protected & others were to be shared. The county board was to have had a cooperative relationship with the constituent boards. The "big" board was to be more global in its raising of standards & consistent mgt. The "little" boards were to have their ears close to the schools and the people. The only real job of each constituent board was to approve student & teacher transfers within their districts only, to participate in the selection of principals (that the Superintendent ultimately hired), to "rubber stamp" a principal’s list of teacher contracts to be offered each year, to hear disciplinary case involving students recommended for expulsion, to hear teacher grievances if transferred or fired (after the fact, as a constituent board only hires…not fires) and to "review & approve" school bus insurance policies...whatever that was supposed to mean. All actions by a constituent board could be appealed and overturned by the big board…and they often were…if the county board chose to make it their business.

MG-J was told in advance of taking the job in Charleston in 2003 that the big board had no use for constituent boards...regardless of the fact they existed and operated under SC State Statute. The truth is that the system of constituent boards in Charleston County has been trumped long ago by fiat and abdication. As one constituent board chairman recently said, "I'd be glad to see the state legislature do away with this system, if CCSD could show me they can manage properly their own duties AND still take on ours. The county school board so far has shown no sign of their being able to do one job well, much less two, so I'm not in favor of giving them more power."

The nine members of the big board are also elected at large (assuming the 8 constituent boards with 7 members each were to have been more closely connected to the people). Without constituent boards having anything more than a bully pulpit, there is no real accountability to the people among the 9 member county board. The big board holds all the purse strings and they have used that power with impunity to reward and to punish. CCSD’s 9 member board is the only governmental body in a major SC community that is still elected to at-large seats which means it has less accountability to individual voters than any other officeholder on the ballot short of the state governor or any official running statewide. I envy Seattle’s tradition of school board members holding “office hours” in public places so their neighbors can have discussions with them. In Charleston, our constituent board members can do this, but to what end. They have no power. County school board members have unlisted telephone numbers, changed their e-mail addresses to what amounts to a “dead letter file” and complain openly when they are approached by “strangers”.

Now here's the real reason for constituent boards. This is also why CCSD likes to complain about them but doesn't want to kill them outright.

In 1962, one of the 8 original districts was named in the state’s first test case to desegregate public schools. All 11 states of the former Confederacy were likewise taken to Federal Court by the US Justice Dept. The downtown Charleston urban district was determined by people at DOJ at the time to have the best schools and the best chance of making integration work out for everyone. After some consternation the all white male District 20 school board, unlike their counterparts in more than a few other states, chose to sign a voluntary consent agreement to desegregate the following year. They didn't like it, but they didn't challenge it by standing in the school house door or by seeking endless delays in court. Charleston’s downtown public schools, a much smaller school district at the time (with 6,000 students enrolled), desegregated peacefully in 1963.

By 1968, they were still the only school district in SC that was desegregated, including the 7 other districts in Charleston County. In order for the consolidation effort to pass, the other 7 districts (and their political bosses) had to be assured that they could "contain" District 20 (downtown) so that it wouldn't lead to the Justice Dept. claiming CCSD was "one big district" and then open to county-wide desegregation and court ordered bussing. It worked. Every time they needed a defense, they said CCSD was 8 separate districts. When they needed an excuse to say why CCSD had failed in attracting good principals or teachers, they blamed the constituent board system. Never mind that they could veto virtually everything a constituent board did.

CCSD got a bonus they didn't anticipate when, for legal purposes, they effectively contained Dist. 20 (and the other 7 constituent districts, too.) The entire state was ordered to desegregate in 1970, so using constituent district lines as a means to prevent the spread of integration was moot. Now they could prevent the transfer of too many minorities between mostly minority rural districts and the growing white majority suburban districts. As for urban downtown Charleston and military-industrial complex dependent North Charleston, they could be ignored for a while...military base closures eventually caused North Charleston to become a minority magnet and downtown Charleston's hot historic real estate market became too expensive for many minorities and all but a few remaining middle class whites. By this time CCSD had discovered that the constituent district boards had become ineffective in all but the most politically active suburban areas. As long as their schools were seen as the best and their schools not opened to "out of district" transfers or not too many of their best and brightest would not siphoned off to out of district magnet schools, they went along with whatever CCSD & the county board wanted...after all they were the voters who turned out at election or bond referendum time. As for the less populated constituent districts in the rural areas or the 2 urban districts decimated by late "white flight", they would become the dumping ground of CCSD's poorest teachers, administrators & students. Constituent boards had little say...except in dying gasps from their bully pulpits.

Leonard Pitts Op-Ed and the spokesman for the Kipp group are correct. A good teacher, an involved parent or a gifted student scattered here or there isn't enough. CCSD has attempted to manipulate pockets of plenty while leaving the rest abandoned to inequity and chance. Buist Academy is the classic example of plenty for those fortunate enough to get in while the students who live in its shadow are unable to "win the lottery" that's assuming they received the educational basics to qualify.

CCSD's deliberate manipulation and misuse of constituent boards & district lines in order to achieve unfair and inequitable ends is why many of us in Charleston know how to spell "Apartheid".

For nearly 40 years CCSD has violated its legal and moral partnership with the local communities. It has taken that long for all 8 constituent boards to abandoned their rights (or should I say duties) to be the ears & eyes as advocates for their local public schools. It could have worked, but for a variety of vain and self serving reasons of petty politicians it was never given the chance. Constituent boards in Charleston need to be abolished, but CCSD also needs to be de-consolidated.

- a friend of G.Anderson

Anonymous said...

This is an addenda to the tale of Charleston and its constituent boards that MG-J doesn’t know or just wasn’t interested enough to learn while she was here. (Don’t you just love those people who travel about, fired up with missionary zeal, bent on converting the heathen, but whose ears are perpetually plugged up?)

The Catholic Diocese of Charleston had foreseen the DOJ desegregation test case against the original downtown Charleston school district (known as Dist. 20). This was several years before the advent of CCSD and the consolidation of the 8 independent districts. In 1962, the Diocese of Charleston (which includes all of SC) took the lead to show that peaceful racial integration of the schools was possible. Less than 10% of the state was Catholic, but many non-Catholics attended parochial schools, even then. What Catholic schools did often had an influence on public schools, especially in urban areas like Charleston. Before leaving for Vatican II, the local bishop ordered the desegregation of all parochial schools in SC, but half of these were in Charleston anyway.

The bishop’s announcement was made just as the DOJ, with Attorney Gen. Robert Kennedy at the helm, was naming downtown Charleston’s Dist. 20 School Board as a defendant in its test case for SC. Many Catholics were opposed to the bishop’s order but most were resigned to accept it. There were a few exceptions. One irate and outspoken Catholic, a large contributor to the diocese, reportedly raised a ruckus within church circles over the decision. So much so that he was credited by some with having the offending bishop “from Off” removed. Some say that the bishop was only temporarily assigned here specifically to take the heat that would surely follow such an order. But the decision to desegregate the local Catholic schools remained unchanged, even with a new bishop. Many now know that the clergyman who drafted the order and made this transition work was really one of our own, the future Cardinal Joseph Bernadine. Only then he was just a very able assistant to the bishop. The irate parishioner was reported to be the father of our present mayor.

Parochial schools for the many (educating both black and white children) in the 1820’s had set a pattern and possibly a challenge for the non-Catholic majority in Ante Bellum Charleston. Charleston’s public school system, racially separate but still organized and publicly funded to educate both races, was begun in the 1830’s and was in full swing by the 1850’s.

History isn’t neat, but it is full of lessons. Charleston was a slave holding society when it opened its first public schools for the education of black children. It perceived a need for quality public education just before the start of the Civil War. In 1859 Philadelphia was still barring the children of Irish immigrants from attending its public schools. At least in the case of Charleston, one minority showed the way to accommodate another and the social changes that must follow. Over time the majority would follow if the example proved to be good. In so doing it would occasionally do it one better.

In 1968 Charleston’s city government gave away its title to all 16 of its downtown school properties for one dollar as part of its contribution when CCSD was created. This reduced its own Dist. 20 to just one of the eight constituent boards. In the years that followed CCSD began closing down many of these schools and selling off the properties to private developers. In less than 40 years Charleston's city schools under a consolidated system with its constituent boards went from racially integrated back to virtually 100% segregated. But unlike before, downtown schools which downtown children can attend are also 100% black.

MG-J catagorically stated that whites in Charleston "have always gone to private schools". Well, that wasn't true until CCSD took over.

Downtown schools targeted by DOJ in 1962 because they were so good continued to more or less reflect the racial balance of the downtown district for almost 10 years. A few years after CCSD took charge, however, these same schools went from among the best schools in the state to among the worst. In recent years downtown school programs have been reduced by CCSD to offer only the most minimal of academic choices. In the 1960’s over 6,000 students were enrolled in downtown schools. Today, of the 4,900 school aged children who live in the same area, only 2,100 attend Charleston’s downtown public schools where over 4,000 seats remain in place. What’s wrong with this picture?

CCSD officials didn’t report this information to the public, but one constituent board did. This is part of the history of public schools in Charleston that many here have forgotten. This is also what at least one constituent board has tried to remember and share with those who ultimately direct the future of our schools. Most CCSD officials haven’t been listening to anyone but themselves, let alone listening to what constituent board members are saying. If it's true, it's worth saying anyway.

- a friend...

Melissa Westbrook said...

That was fascinating. I hope this is compiled somewhere because as we learn here in Seattle, once there is no institutional memory, well, anything can happen. It's astonishing how fast people move on to the next thing without considering the ramifications.

Anonymous said...

Institutional memory can be very much like data driven programs. Both are subject to being manipulated by those who would cherry pick the facts in order to support their case in pursuit of a particular agenda. The best defense against poor planning and bad leadership is a knowledgeable and well informed public. Institutional memory is usually the first casualty when something is amiss. Bad data and faulty figures are too often used to fill the void. History can be a valuable guide. It doesn’t have to be an obsession that binds. Bad data, however, can be deadly.