State Politics

Should SC’s governor kick out school board members over nepotism?

Richland 2 school board member has bond hearing on disorderly conduct charges

Richland 2 school board member Monica Elkins-Johnson was arrested after an altercation following a school board meeting on Thursday, Jan. 22, 2019. She released on bond and ordered not to contact the three victims. (This video has no audio.)
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Richland 2 school board member Monica Elkins-Johnson was arrested after an altercation following a school board meeting on Thursday, Jan. 22, 2019. She released on bond and ordered not to contact the three victims. (This video has no audio.)

An influential state senator said Wednesday he wants to remove part of a K-12 education reform proposal that would give the governor the ability to sack school board members in cases of nepotism.

The governor already can remove an elected or appointed official from office if that person is indicted for a crime.

However, the Senate’s K-12 education reform bill would give the governor the power to remove school board members in cases involving nepotism, violations of the state’s election laws or refusal to bid out contracts.

School board members told senators Wednesday that legislators should avoid creating a new ethics law specifically for school boards when the same law won’t apply to others, including legislators, who have come under similar criticisms in the past.

Agreeing, Senate Education Committee chair Greg Hembree, R-Horry, proposed an amendment to the proposal that also would kill a measure to fine or jail school board members who do not complete an ethics-training program. The Senate’s K-12 education subcommittee expects to take up that amendment next Wednesday.

“This is really a heavy-handed and ... an unnecessary enforcement,” Hembree said. “You need to track ... and enforce the training, but making it a crime to do that is highly unusual. We don’t do that in any other section of the code.”

The school board ethics debate comes amid a legislative effort to address South Carolina’s teacher shortage and overhaul failing schools.

Some state officials have expressed frustration with school board members who use their positions to go on junkets and hire relatives, rather than improve their local schools.

Others point to Richland 2 School District as an example, where board chair Amelia McKie faces calls to resign after failing to file campaign disclosures dating back to 2014. She owes the state about $52,000 in penalties. Meanwhile, the school district’s vice chair, Monica Elkins-Johnson, faces disorderly conduct charges for allegedly shoving a parent.

However, school board members told senators Wednesday that much of the ethics language in the Senate and House K-12 education reform bills is redundant, already part of S.C. law or school board policies.

“School boards are probably one of the most regulated public entities there is,” said Richland 1 School District chairman Jamie Devine. “We need good people to continue to run and serve, and not to run them away.”

The problem is that existing ethics laws are not enforced, senators were told Wednesday.

“We all need to be accountable,” Ridge View High School teacher Steve Nuzum said Wednesday, adding, “especially to the voters.”

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Maayan Schechter (My-yahn Schek-ter) covers the S.C. State House and politics for The State. She grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Asheville. She has previously worked at the Aiken Standard and the Greenville News.
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