Williston Board takes its responsibilities seriously
As superintendent for Williston School District 29 schools and an educator in South Carolina for more than 30 years, I want to respond to remarks and add clarity to statements made in a column published in The People-Sentinel on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013, by Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom.
In his column entitled, "Public school fees out of control," Mr. Eckstrom makes reference to exorbitant school fees in Chicago, Huber Heights, Ohio, and Ann Arbor, Michigan, as reported by NBC news. He mentions that fees were not a part of the education system of his childhood and not that of his own children.
The NBC report did not, by the way, include any South Carolina school districts among any of its documented cases. While I have not been an educator in any of the locations Mr. Eckstrom references, I do have a working knowledge of what takes place in South Carolina and, more specifically, in Williston schools.
State law allows local school boards to levy school fees. That same law mandates that fees may not be charged to students eligible for free lunches and must be reduced for students eligible for reduced price lunches.
Our district does not charge regular student fees as suggested by Mr. Eckstrom. Even if the district did charge fees, our board policy reflects the state law regarding students eligible for free and reduced price lunches. A student would not be denied the opportunity to participate in any program if they could not afford to pay a fee.
Statewide, fees charged by districts often are done so to offset the lack of funding equity provided by our state. Athletic participation fees, driver education fees and even parking lot fees for students are often a means of generating funds in order to provide opportunities for students that neither Mr. Eckstrom nor I had when we attended school. Educators, public school officials and especially members of Legislature know full well that our schools in South Carolina are currently being funded at levels last seen in the 1990s.
The push to transform our industrial-age school system into a student-centric design takes creativity and money to fund technology that is seriously lagging behind at the state budget level. Just think about the invention of the iPod in 2001. Since 2007, iPods have sold at more than 100 million each year with this past year's sales topping 350 million. Long gone are the days when Mr. Eckstrom and I attended school and were lucky to get a workbook with pages you completed and tore out to give to the teacher or the purple sheets the teacher made by hand and ran off on the mimeograph machine.
Nobody likes to pay taxes and fees that, as suggested by Mr. Eckstrom, can no doubt create hardships for some South Carolina families. Our school board takes very seriously its responsibility to provide the best education possible for our students and to be good fiscal stewards of public funds. Ensuring our students continually move forward may sometimes require more resources than the state provides.
To quote Will Durant, "Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance."
Dr. Tom Siler,
Superintendent of Schools
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