High court hears arguments on bills targeting Fairfield School Board

By Jody Barr - bio | email

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The state Supreme Court is now involved in a battle for control of a local school board. Lawmakers are trying to take power away from the Fairfield County School Board, but the school district is fighting back. Now the fight is now in the hands of the state's chief justices.

The fight started nine months ago when Fairfield County's legislative delegation, Rep. Boyd Brown and Sen. Creighton Coleman, came up with a plan to take away the county school board's power to control its spending.  

They helped push a bill through the State House that would require the board to spend 70 percent of its tax dollars inside the classroom. The bill also created a finance committee to oversee the district's spending, and allowed Coleman and Brown to appoint two new members to the board.

The governor vetoed the bill, saying the power to control the school board lies with the voters, not the legislature. Lawmakers overturned the veto, making the Fairfield County bill a law.

The district appealed. "And here, all of a sudden comes a law up that decides for Fairfield County alone that this will be completely undone," said school board attorney Armand Derfner.

Derfner argued the Constitution prohibits laws that single out particular districts, which is what he says happened in Fairfield County.  

However, Brown and Coleman's attorney argued that there is what he calls a logical basis and sound reason for the special law. "The General Assembly does believe that for this specific school district and for this county, there is a reason for that," said Rob Tyson.

"What is the distinction here in Fairfield County that we do not see in other school districts throughout this state?" asked Justice Donald Beatty.

"The school district, as referenced in our appendix, has had some financial operations issues," responded Tyson.

"How many school districts in this state that do not have?" asked Beatty.

"I understand that," replied Tyson.

The reason for the takeover, according to Boyd and Coleman, is that the district's spending habits put about half of the funds into the classroom. Whether there was a good reason for the law, is up to the five men and women on the court.

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