It appears that if the Beaufort County Board of Education wants to draw its own district lines, it will have to get state legislators on its side.
Lawmakers would have to rewrite a 1992 law that made the school board districts mirror Beaufort County Council districts.
That would require the Beaufort County Legislative delegation to enact new local legislation -- legislation that impacts only one area and is voted on only by that area's legislators.
The board is considering drawing its own district lines because County Council's recently approved a redistricting plan that would drastically change the school board.
Under the plan, 10 of the 11 school board incumbents would face election next year.
Eight school board members were drawn into the same district, so at least four incumbents will not return to the board following 2012 elections.
There are also four districts without an incumbent.
There is some question whether local legislation is constitutional. Regardless, the General Assembly doesn't return to session until January.
In other words, the procedural and time constraints would make it difficult -- but not impossible -- for the school board to draw its own political boundaries.
"Since the statute doesn't expressly say Beaufort County Council has the authority to draw lines, there may be some ambiguity," State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, said Tuesday.
IS IT TOO LATE?
It is typically held that under Home Rule, lawmakers are supposed to pass only laws that affect the entire state.
Davis said local legislation governing education is usually allowed, however, based on a 1962 state Supreme Court ruling that the state constitution provides more latitude when it comes to education.
"The assumption behind that is that education is a particular thing to a locality," Davis said. "What might work well in one part of the state might not work well in another."
Even so, the Board of Education might have gotten too late of a jump on its redistricting plans.
The legislature couldn't vote on a new law until at least January and could not make the new law retroactive.
Davis said that means it wouldn't allow for separate school board and County Council districts until the 2020 Census.
"I think it would be virtually impossible for them to do it even if the delegation was open to the idea of taking a look at something along those lines," said state Rep. Andy Patrick, R-Hilton Head Island.
Patrick said he is concerned the school board had missed its chance to influence political boundaries when it did not participate in the County Council's process. The school board's redistricting committee did not meet until last week, and County Council members have said they heard little from the board throughout the months-long process.
"That's not representing your constituency," Patrick said. "When you represent your constituency, you participate in the process, regardless of your apprehension."
WHAT HAS TO BE DONE
Boundary changes would have to be submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice for review, a process that can take two or more months.
Bobby Bowers, the director of the S.C. Office of Research and Statistics who helped the county with redistricting, said he has recommended counties send their plans to the department by the end of October so that everything Could be finalized by the new year and elections could run smoothly, beginning with March filing dates.
Because they are nonpartisan and do not involve primaries, school board candidates don't have to file for office until mid-July. That could mean more time for the board.
"As long as it's possible, we will pursue it," Board of Education Chairman Fred Washington Jr. said. "If it turns out it's not possible, we won't go any further."
Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.
- School board wants to draw its own districts; Sept. 13, 2011
- Anger over school board redistricting erupts in email battle; Aug. 26, 2011
- School board members lose out in county redistricting plan; Aug. 24, 2011