There has been a recent emergence of a new generation – a microgeneration between millennials and Gen Z, now being referred to as “Zillennial.”

BAMBERG – Rep. Justin Bamberg says a bill extending the terms of Bamberg County School District’s appointed board members is needed so lingering issues can be addressed.

‘Kids don’t have
time to wait’

Bamberg, D-Bamberg, introduced House Bill 4413 on May 2. It’s now been approved by the General Assembly and is awaiting the governor’s signature.

The bill cuts the board down from nine members to seven members.

The members will be appointed by the Bamberg County Legislative Delegation, which consists of Bamberg and Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg.

The members will serve four-year terms beginning July 2024.

The bill sunsets on July 1, 2028. The sunset clause was added after Bamberg’s original bill was amended on May 3 to include one.

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Some citizens have expressed concern about the extension because under the original school district consolidation bill, Bamberg County voters were to begin electing new members in 2024.

The original act stated that voters were to then begin “electing four members to serve four-year terms from single-member election districts 2, 4, 6 and 8 in nonpartisan elections to be conducted at the same time as the 2024 general election.”

Bamberg said he was in the process of crafting school district election lines when he discovered that the school district’s $5 million share from the Savannah River Site settlement was being held up.

The newly consolidated district has incurred at least $50 million in outstanding bond debt, including bonds issued to build Richard Carroll Elementary School in BSD1 and a new BSD2 pre-K-12 school.

The $5 million was part of a larger package, including approximately $8 million from the state Department of Education, he had secured to get the debts paid down to help lower taxes.

“The bonds for whatever reason don’t allow for a lump sum payment. So you wouldn’t actually be able to feel the effect as planned if we had done it that way. So the money was sitting in the state Treasurer’s Office.

“So I tried to deviate and pivot from doing lines to, ‘OK, what is going on with this money?’ because it was supposed to be able to lower the millage rate. Got that plan hammered out and, between that, there was a Denmark-Olar Middle School. Out of nine total teachers, I think eight of them were uncertified,” Bamberg said.

He continued, “The district had been working on, ‘Well, what are we going to do to address that?’ Because these middle school kids need to be taught by certified teachers. If it doesn’t get fixed, our school district would lose a ton of money. We get federal dollars and stuff like that for meeting certain requirements.”

Bamberg said he felt that the present board did not need to be disbanded until the issue was fixed.

Between trying to accomplish the mission of lowering taxes and addressing the certified teacher shortage at Denmark-Olar Elementary School, there is no time to try to bring in a new board, he said.

“There’s already a teacher shortage, and we had this uncertified teacher shortage that the board is working on addressing with the school administrator and stuff,” he said.

Bamberg took the stance “that there wasn’t time to interrupt fixing these issues by injecting brand-new people who have to be brought up to speed from scratch, and particularly on addressing the certified teacher issue,” he said.

Bamberg continued, “Those kids don’t have time to wait for someone to get brought up to speed. We’ve got to address this stuff. So all I decided to do was allow the consolidated board that was appointed for purposes of consolidating the district, allow them to effectively serve one more term so that we can get all this stuff figured out and fixed.”

“We had a plan, the plan was solid, the plan was working, but there were some speed bumps. I just encourage everybody, the vast majority of the county is extremely supportive behind what we’re doing. The vast majority of the county is praising the fact that for once in decades, all of the individuals tasked with making the decisions for public education in our county are considering all students and not just some,” he said.

Bamberg continued, “I don’t have the benefit like some parents, or others. They may have the benefit of only thinking about themselves and their family and their kids and their friends. I don’t have that benefit. My job is to do what’s best and think about everyone collectively across the county, including those people that others may not care anything about.”

Bamberg said it’s just a matter of timing.

“I’m working on getting numbers from the district about how many students we have enrolled in each grade level. With that middle school issue, if there are no certified teachers, it may very well be that those students may have to go to Bamberg-Ehrhardt Middle School. So these are very complicated things. It’s not as simple as people make it out to be. It’s when you’re trying to do it right, sometimes things just change,” the legislator said.

“And I want it fixed because every kid in our county deserves to have the absolute best public education possible, and if people had cared about that on a total basis, i.e. years ago, if people in charge cared about every kid instead of about certain kids, we wouldn’t even be where we’re at now,” he said.

In an emailed statement, Board Chairwoman Janeth Walker said, “Based upon my understanding of the House bill filed, I believe that the legislative body is taking a practical approach to the continuation of a successful consolidation. I further believe the decision to file the bill was well thought out, measured and it lends itself to all the processes necessary for forward thinking.”

Walker said consolidation has been an arduous task.

“Anyone having experience in working through this aids in the ability to forecast what is required, in order for it to succeed. Every student attending our county schools deserves our very best. We owe this to them. I support the bill 100%,” she said.

Board Vice Chairman John L. Hiers said, “We really haven’t had any discussions as a board, per say, about it (the bill), but I knew we were waiting on the new district lines to be restructured with the consolidation.”

“I’m anxious for us to have the elections as soon as possible, but I understand that there’s procedures that have to be gone through to reestablish those lines. We’re currently an appointed board anyway. So I guess that’s just going to be extending the board’s tenure,” he said.

Hiers would like elections to take place, however, before 2028.

Bamberg said there is nothing to prevent that from happening.

“Just because the bill says that it sunsets July 1, 2028, doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be that long. If all of this stuff gets finished and gets tightened up, there’s nothing that prevents the legislative delegation from going on and saying, ‘All right guys, where we at? Everything’s done, everything’s ready. Let’s go ahead to file our bill to immediately start the (election) process.’”

“If the certified teacher stuff is addressed, and the debt services millage rate is recreated, thereby lowering the taxes, which was part of the plan, there’s nothing that’s stopping us from going ahead and starting the process of public elections and things like that,” the legislator said.

Bamberg continued, “It’s just more, in my belief, based on lawmaking in Columbia, it’s more prudent to give yourself more time than less. For example, with that original legislation, if we had built in more time, we wouldn’t be having this problem in the first place.

“You would have a larger window. You don’t know when things are going to come up, or if there’s going to be a monkey wrench in the plan, or whatever. All you know is that you can work diligently towards it.”

‘Votes taken away’

Bamberg resident Sharon Carter, who unsuccessfully challenged Bamberg in 2022, said, “In my opinion, any time you take away people’s right to have a voice in voting for the people that represent them in very important issues, especially schools, that concerns me.”

She said Bamberg’s original bill had no sunset clause, but Bamberg said that was an oversight on his part.

“The reason this board was created was to consolidate the district. That’s what they were tasked with. That process is not finished. I did not want to derail things and we just weren’t there yet. I have a sunset provision. The bill I originally filed, it didn’t sunset. That’s on me. That was an oversight on my part. I just wasn’t thinking about it in terms of how it may look,” Bamberg said.

He claims “only a handful of people” are upset about the bill.

“There are only a few people who are upset and have nothing to do with our school children, or what’s best for our district. People have personal vendettas,” he said.

Bamberg continued, “For example, one of the folks upset is a person who challenged me and lost. There’s somebody upset because of things that happened with their friend. There are people upset because they applied for a job, and they did not get it because it went to someone more qualified.

“Things we exactly wanted to keep out of consolidation, people are mad that that stuff didn’t happen. My number one and only priority is that we do this correctly and do what’s best for the children, do what’s best for the teachers in our schools and do what’s best for our county.”

Carter said, “For me, the point is simple: It’s never good for people to get their votes taken away. Here is how I’ve seen it. We’ve contacted the both of them (Bamberg and Hutto) on numerous occasions prior to this, asking them, ‘When are our lines going to be established so that people will know where they live and who can run?’

“So our representatives have yet to put together the lines for elections for school boards. Since they haven’t done that, I don’t know how they feel, but maybe they’re buying the time that they in fact did not do their job this past year in developing lines. So that’s one aspect.”

A concerned parent of three children in the district, who didn’t want to be named, said, “The district is preaching about transparency and accountability and, you know, all of a sudden we’re finding out that Rep. Bamberg is trying to pass a bill.”

“It somehow doesn’t feel right that that our legislators would be making the decision before the people of Bamberg and for the parents and the teachers, to not even give them a heads up and say, ‘Hey, this is what I’m doing and this is why I’m doing it,’” she said.

Bamberg said the bill is not about trying to seize power over the district.

“So people are like, ‘Oh, it’s a power grab.’ It’s not a power grab. I have a bajillion things to do and so does Sen. Hutto. No one wants to run a school district. It’s not about that,” the legislator said.

“I’m a civil rights lawyer. I talk to my grandma all the time about what it was like when she couldn’t vote. No one wants to deprive people of voting. But we’re doing something that should have been done 50 years ago if it wasn’t for racial and geographical divides.

“It would have been stellar if we could have completed and done everything and got a consolidated district where it needed to be within the window of that original bill, and it just didn’t happen,” he said.

Hutto did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

Contact the writer: or 803-533-5534. Follow “Good News with Gleaton” on Twitter at @DionneTandD

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