South Carolina Report Examines School Governance Structures

Last Updated: June 25, 2010

This article appeared in the June 2010 Rural Policy Matters.

A recently released report in South Carolina discusses the hodgepodge of governance structures among the state’s 85 school districts, but concludes that despite home rule, the state maintains the most control over districts. School District Organization and Governance in South Carolina,” released by the Strom Thurmond Institute of Government and Public Affairs of Clemson University, concludes that state school districts are largely under the control of their local legislative delegation, which can control the size and composition of school boards and the number and configuration of school districts through the legislative process. This governance structure puts South Carolina school districts at risk of consolidation with no local input.

Author Holley Ulbrich, a noted public finance expert in the state reviews South Carolina’s history of home rule, a governing principle that was the result of federal court-mandated redistricting. Redrawn voting districts allowed municipalities to make their own decisions, but school districts, largely state-funded at that time, were left under the control of their local legislators. Under the process of local legislation, legislators can force consolidation within their legislative district, or as has recently happened, mandate reconfiguration of school boards. In one district, legislators added legislative appointees to a local board.

During the primary season, candidates for state office continue to promote consolidation as a cost-saving measure, and consolidation has long been promoted by Governor Mark Sanford. In the report, Ulbrich offers examples of alternatives to consolidation, including sharing services through commissions or services centers.

Read more:

Press release covering the report:

The report:

Coverage of the Institute’s analysis of potential consolidation actions in one South Carolina county, including consolidation alternatives:

Read more from the June 2010 Rural Policy Matters.