Senator Kevin Johnson introduced a bill to the South Carolina Senate on January 21st that has been met with some community backlash. The bill, which concerns the consolidation of Clarendon School Districts 1 and 3, will add two additional members to the interim District 4 board, personally selected by Johnson. The bill also extends the term of those board members for another two years into 2023.
Several members of the community planned a meeting at Weldon Auditorium last Friday night to air their discrepancies with this bill, a meeting that Johnson declined to attend.
“There is only one thing to do things, and that is fairly and equally,” said District 3 County Councilman Benton Blakely. “And that is the way that I have tried to be.”
Blakely shared his thoughts on consolidation as well as his history serving on the Clarendon 3 school board and County Council.
Other members of the community had things to say as well.
“It is not that we have anything against them [Kim and Kevin Johnson]. The real issue is, are they serving us as individuals,” said Eleazer Carter, who ran against Johnson in the primaries last year. “You can give us our leaders, but it is no use if they won’t pay attention to us.”
The main concern that the majority of the citizens there that night have is that Johnson is being allowed to select the additional members. What was supposed to be an elected board by late 2021, is now an appointed board through at least 2023. Many of those in the crowd at last Friday’s meeting were planning to run for a position on this consolidated board, and many of them believe they have reason to be upset with Johnson for “taking this right from them.”
“Why aren’t they here tonight to answer these questions,” asked one member of the crowd. “You wanted our vote now listen to us.”
As far as Johnson is concerned, he is doing what is best for District 4, and what is best for the children.
“What I’ve done with the bill is increase the size of the board by two members, which gives them two more sets of eyes and two more eyes sitting around the table,” said Johnson. “We also extended their time there for another two years.”
Johnson’s reasoning for the extension comes from what he calls a “complicated consolidation project.” He says that extending their terms will allow for some consistency during what is already poised to be a challenging and confusing time.
His response to the community member's meeting, as well as his reason for not attending, was that he did not believe their concerns were genuine.
“This is a group of people that this is all they do,” said Johnson. “They have always fought me and my campaign to try and ensure that I wouldn’t win. Anything that I do is going to be wrong in their eyes.”
Johnson believes that the group that met is there merely to “get people riled up and angry” instead of “just presenting the facts.”
As for Clarendon 4, they ensured everyone that they were simply focused on making sure that the future of the consolidated districts was secure and in the best shape to serve children in Turbeville, Summerton, and beyond.
The bill has passed in the senate and is now awaiting approval in the House.
For meeting members like Lanette Samuels-Cooper, the next move is to call the House of Representatives incessantly and “block the bill.” As for the Johnson’s, they hope their constituents will allow them to make the changes they see necessary to provide a better education for Clarendon’s children.