It was a surprising, almost extraordinary move last week when the Fort Mill School Board unanimously passed a resolution last week opposing the possible appointment of a Rock Hill woman to represent the area on the S.C. School Board.
Though it’s largely symbolic, we support the measure and applaud our school board for standing up for public education.
The state school board plays a heavy role in education. That was demonstrated last week when it decided to stand behind an AP history course that came under fire for purportedly not doing enough to recognize America’s accomplishments and heroes. Members are supposed to represent a cross section of the state. One representative is chosen from each of 16 zones that mirror the state’s judicial circuit. A 17th member is appointed by the governor. Fort Mill and all of York County, along with Union County, is part of the 16th circuit, where Kathy Sullivan resides.
Sullivan, an airline pilot who serves on the board of directors at Academy Christian School, a private school in Rock Hill, is part of a faction of area conservatives who favor using public funds to subsidize private school tuition. That’s an affront to public education under any circumstance, but at a time when growing school districts like ours have to accommodate increasing student populations without a commensurate increase in money from the state, it’s a particularly foul idea. Sullivan, along with the conservative faction’s PAC, made campaign donations to candidates in the recent Fort Mill School Board election who we felt were unsuitable to serve, partly due to their openly hostile attitude toward public schools. None received enough votes to win election to the board.
One of the great ironies of public education in the state has been the term of outgoing S.C. Education Superintendent Mick Zais, an arch conservative who also has been openly hostile to public education. Asked about the Fort Mill School Board’s opposition to Sullivan, Zais, whose term will end at the end of the year – now there’s something to celebrate Thanksgiving Day – was dismissive, saying “it is the (state) board’s job to represent the interests of parents, taxpayers, and school children – not necessarily the interests of the school system.”
It’s almost unfathomable that he would say that. If it’s not the role of a public, statewide school board to look after the interests of the system itself, then whose role is it? That’s why it seems counter-intuitive to appoint a representative who doesn’t believe in the system. That representative should have the backs of local students, parents, teachers and administrators – not look for ways to stab them in the back.
Also dismissive of the Fort Mill board’s stance is S.C. Rep. Ralph Norman, which is unfortunate because the circuit’s delegation to Columbia is responsible for nominating its representative to the state school board. Norman, a real estate developer, should know as well as anyone how residential growth has impacted Fort Mill schools and should promote a representative who’s not only sympathetic, but a champion of public schools in general.
Like this past year’s unnecessary backlash against Common Core education standards, the attempt to elevate Sullivan to a position of power over public schools has the odor of paranoia wafting out of the right wing’s conspiracy theory basement. Opponents of public education essentially say those running our schools hate God and America and they want to introduce more religion and patriotism to the classroom.
We can’t vouch for every single individual involved in our public schools, but it’s not going out on a limb to say with certainty that the vast majority are deeply spiritual and love their country. They also recognize the necessary boundaries between the public and private sectors. And just as there’s more than one way to pray and practice a belief in God, there’s more than one way to believe in your country and there’s no law that says anyone has to wear either on their sleeve.
For some reason, extreme right wingers in this country aren’t happy unless they’re riled up and that’s a weakness firebrand talk show hosts and bloggers and such are all too eager to exploit. That’s why the assault on public education won’t end anytime soon and it’s important that our legislative delegation find someone more qualified and less polarizing than Sullivan to serve on the state board.
They have until the end of the month to get it right. Let’s pray they do.