Buist to get Board Answers

Rosen Hagood February 16, 2008

Buist to get board answer
By Diette Courrégé
The Post and Courier
Saturday, February 16, 2008

The debate about which Charleston school board has the authority to decide who can attend the best public school downtown will be decided next week.

Charleston County Master-in-Equity Judge Mikell Scarborough said Friday that he planned to make a ruling on whether the county or downtown constituent school board has the power to assign students to Buist Academy. The decision could affect which kindergarten students would be eligible for the school’s lottery on Feb. 25.

The judge listened to both attorneys’ arguments but was particularly interested in the manner by which the school came into existence. He asked attorneys to provide documentation by next week that would show the process and board approval involved in starting the school.

Attorneys disagreed about which board was responsible for the school’s creation. Attorney Alice Paylor said the county school board approved and funded the school while plaintiff’s attorney Larry Kobrovsky said that approval couldn’t have happened without the downtown board’s consent.

Buist Academy is on the peninsula but accepts students from across the county. It’s one of the school district’s highest achieving schools and has more than 1,000 students on its waiting list.

The downtown constituent school board decided more than two years ago to change the Buist admissions policy and give peninsula residents and their siblings priority admittance. But the school ignored the ruling and stuck to its existing admissions policy that gives one-fourth of its 40 kindergarten seats to downtown residents, with the remaining three-fourths going to county residents, students who attend low-performing schools and siblings.

The county board ruled in September to overturn and void the constituent board’s decision, and that issue was appealed by two constituent board members and a parent whose child could’ve gotten into Buist Academy if the constituent board’s admissions policy had been followed. The same three previously had filed a lawsuit against the district on the same issue — whether the constituent board has the power to assign students to Buist — and both cases were heard in court.

At the beginning of the two-hour hearing, Kobrovsky raised a number of issues with the impartiality of previous hearings held by the county school board. He argued that it wasn’t fair for former Charleston County School Board Chairwoman Nancy Cook to receive free representation from Paylor on an issue related to her board candidacy and then preside over the Buist Academy principal’s appeal of the constituent board’s admissions policy decision.

Paylor countered that she felt obligated because she represented the district and because a district employee had been at fault in giving her a wrong form to file with the State Ethics Commission. She did not charge Cook or the district for her services.