Bridges Prep accepts nominations for board elections, proposes bylaw changes

sbowman@islandpacket.comSeptember 12, 2013 

The scene Thursday night during a meeting of Bridges Preparatory School parents and officials.

STAFF PHOTO

It's off to the races.

Sort of.

Less than a week after a spat with the board led to the resignation of Bridges Preparatory School's first head of school, nominations for the board were accepted Thursday during a meeting at the new state charter school in northern Beaufort County.

Melesia Walden quit Sept. 6, explaining in an email to staff that she could not continue to work with a micro-managing board. The board named retired teacher Bernie Schein her interim replacement during an emergency meeting Sunday.

Walden's resignation was not the primary reason for Thursday's meeting with parents at the Beaufort Boys & Girls Club, where Bridges holds some of its classes. Rather, the informational session kicked off a week-long period during which the board will receive nominations for new members.

At Thursday's meeting, three people received verbal nominations and several others were submitted in writing. Nominations will be accepted through Sept. 17, according to board Vice Chairman Blair Williams.

The current seven-member board was formed to govern as the school applied for a state-sponsored charter and prepare for the school's opening. Bridges held its first classes Aug. 19 and is part of the S.C. Public Charter School District.

Now that the school has opened, by state charter law it is supposed to hold an election -- a date has not yet been set -- to fill the seven board seats for two-year terms.

Williams said all parents, staff and community members are eligible if they live in the state, have never been convicted of a felony and "demonstrate a commitment to the school's mission."

However, it's not clear how many seats will be up for grabs.

A proposal to change the school's bylaws was posted to its website Wednesday night. Under the school's current charter and bylaws, all seven seats would be up for election, but proposed changes would allow three current members to remain and four seats open to election by parents and staff. New members would serve two-year terms.

In a memorandum posted with the proposed changes, the board explained the three hold-overs would serve one-year terms, providing continuity and preventing the board from potentially turning over entirely at each subsequent election.

However, the school charter requires proposals to change bylaws be posted for 30 days before they can be voted on. That would mean they would be voted on in mid-October -- after elections based on the current charter would take place.

Williams said parents should come with questions and recommendations about the bylaws to a board meeting Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the school. He would not comment or provide any clarification on how the board is planning resolve the timing.

Mary Carmichael, executive director of the Public Charter School Alliance of South Carolina, said it is her understanding the board has sought legal advice to make sure they are following the proper procedures.

She said charter law allows boards to appoint up to 50 percent of its members and create a nominating committee, as the Bridges' bylaw amendments also propose.

"I know that collectively the board will do everything they can to do right by the parents, by the children and by the law," said Lee Levesque, whose child attends Bridges.

"It's important to get some more information, but I think they are handling it well," added Bridges parent Jim Denton. "We are very excited about this upcoming school year."

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

Related content:

Bridges Prep appoints new interim administrator at emergency meeting, September 8, 2013

Citing board interference, Bridges Prep headmaster resigns, September 6, 2013

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