Deficit crisis provokes change - Bill would expand Sumter school board

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Both state senators representing Sumter County introduced a bill Thursday to add two at-large board members initially appointed by the county legislative delegation to the Sumter School District Board of Trustees.

State Sen. Thomas McElveen, D-Sumter, said he introduced the legislation with state Sen. Kevin Johnson, D-Clarendon, with the full support of the entire delegation, which consists of both senators and four representatives in the House of Representatives.

McElveen said the delegation has considered introducing the legislation for a long time, but the recent financial crisis of the school district pushed the need for the legislation to the forefront.

"With the issues the school district is having, if we can put more eyes, more discussion and more community-wide participation toward those issues, then I think you have a better chance of solving them and moving forward," McElveen said Friday. "That's why I think now is as good a time as any if you are going to make changes to the school district that are going to benefit it for the long run."

The board of trustees currently includes seven elected positions representing different areas of the district and one honorary, non-voting position representing Shaw Air Force Base.

In December, the fiscal year 2016 audit report was released and revealed the district overspent by $6.2 million last fiscal year and had an ending general fund balance on June 30, 2016, of $106,449 - a critically low level, according to auditor Robin Poston. The district's fiscal year begins each July 1 and ends June 30 and is referred to as the fiscal year in which it ends.

The current fiscal year is 2017 and ends June 30.

During last Monday's regularly scheduled board meeting, the Rev. Ralph Canty, representing area six on the board, and Johnny Hilton, representing area four, said Sumter residents are losing trust of the board following recent financial problems within the district.

After being initially appointed by the delegation, McElveen said both appointees will serve on the board until the next scheduled school district election, which will be in November 2018. Both board-member appointees will be eligible to run for election.

According to the filed bill, one at-large member elected to the board in 2018 will be elected to a two-year term, and the other will be elected to a four-year term in order to stagger the seats.

Thereafter, all at-large elections will be for a four-year term.

As far as a timetable, McElveen said if the legislation passes second and third reading in the Senate, it will go to the House. If it passes the House, then it will go to Gov. Henry McMaster. In case of a veto, an override can occur with two-thirds majority vote in both the House and Senate.

McElveen said the bill could become law by the end of the regular session in May. He said the local delegation will then be expedient in fillings the two at-large seats.