Politics & Government

Sanford vetoes state takeover of Fairfield schools

Gov. Mark Sanford has vetoed two bills dealing with the Fairfield County School Board on the grounds the bills violate the state's home rule laws.

Sanford, who issued the vetoes Wednesday night, applauded the efforts of two Democratic Fairfield lawmakers who pushed the legislation through the General Assembly in a effort, they said, to bring greater accountability to the troubled school system.

However, he criticized their tactics.

The legislation, offered by Sen. Creighton Coleman and Rep. Boyd Brown, would strip the elected school board of its authority to handle the district's finances.

The second piece of legislation would remake the sitting school board by appointing two additional members to the seven-member body, increasing its size to nine.

That move was designed to create a new five-member majority voting bloc to counter an existing four-member majority voting bloc that Coleman and Brown said is impeding the school district's progress.

The legislation has been returned to the General Assembly, which Tuesday could vote to overturn the vetoes.

"We are told these changes are ultimately about moving toward a greater level of financial accountability and making sure more money is spent in the classroom," Sanford wrote in his veto message.

"We applaud this, but given our long-held belief in home rule, we believe efforts to change this should not be done in a way that takes power and authority, however well or poorly managed, from those elected locally," he said.

In 1974, the General Assembly passed an act known as home rule that gave local government the authority to self-govern and prohibited the state from passing laws that affect towns and cities.

But lawmakers commonly work around that law.

These bills are considered "local legislation," and lawmakers generally abstain from voting on those bills if they do not affect their districts. Because of that, Brown's one vote in the House and Coleman's one vote in the Senate could override Sanford's veto.

Fairfield County School Board chairwoman Annie McDaniel, a lightning rod on the school board, along with recently hired school superintendent Patrice Robinson and the S.C. School Board Association, held a Thursday news conference supporting the veto.

The state NAACP has said it is considering suing the district if the two bills become law. The NAACP said expanding the board and stripping it of its financial authority may violate articles of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.