The McDuffie County Board of Education had an opportunity last week to correct the growing racial imbalance at Maxwell and Thomson Elementary. Not only were plans to redraw district lines and allow out-of-county students to pay tuition to attend McDuffie schools not passed by the board, but votes weren't even held on the matters.
Prior to last week's meeting, Board Chairman Tommy Phelps said something had to be done to end the racial imbalance.
"I personally think that we need to make some adjustments at a minimum in the district because I think it's incumbent upon the board to keep as good a racial balance between our schools as we can," he said in mid-February.
But nothing was done. To the chagrin of Superintendent of Schools Ed Grisham, a motion on the tuition plan did not receive a second, and a motion wasn't even made to redraw district lines.
"I've had dozens and dozens of calls from people urging us to please consider one or both of those changes, so I am disappointed," said Dr. Grisham.
Additionally, a plan to replace the current "first come, first served" pre-k registration process with a lottery system didn't receive a second, despite a recommendation from Assistant Superintendent Kathy Collins.
Peculiar as this was, it wasn't the first time the Board of Education declined to take a stance on a hot button item. Last spring, the very same tuition plan did not receive a second despite numerous requests from out-of-county families in favor of it.
The board did, however, beef up its residency requirements during this month's meeting to ensure that students were attending the right school. Board members did so because they thought it would be a way to help offset the racial imbalance. While instituting more inspective residency registration procedures is a good idea, according to Dr. Grisham, it has the potential of making the racial imbalance even more pronounced.
Enforcing stricter residency requirements is an "everybody wins" solution. In other words, it's an easy call for the board to make because no one disputes that such requirements are beneficial to the community. But when it comes to issues like redrawing district lines, instituting a tuition system or installing a pre-k lottery process, there are people on both sides of those issues. And those are the issues the BOE declines to act upon.
After the meeting, some board members said they were waiting to restructure the schools in the coming years. If they're wary of taking sides on a plan to redraw district lines, then they aren't ready for the firestorm teachers and parents will make when they're told to change schools.
Board of Education members do an admirable job running our school system on a day-in and day-out basis. But they were elected to represent the county's residents -- not to put off the tough decisions that directly affect them.
Parents, faculty, staff, the school board chairman, and a school superintendent with more than 30 years experience felt these issues at least deserved a vote.
McDuffie County and its citizens certainly deserved as much.