In 2010, Dillon County voters overwhelmingly voted to have its county board of education elected instead of appointed. That change never happened.
Despite years of public outcry, Dillon county schools are still tightly controlled by a small group of politicians. The group is called the Dillon county local legislative delegation. That delegation is made up of three elected officials.
They are representative Jackie “coach” Hayes and state Senators Kent Williams and Greg Hembree.
“The legislative delegation for Dillon appoints the school board for Dillon county,” says Hembree
Constituents have pushed the delegation to dissolve for years.
“We had a lot of interest over there in Dillon people ask us to do that,” says Williams.
So many people that 2010 advisory referendum shows nearly 90 percent of voters supporting to end the delegation. But almost four years after the vote, nothing has changed. The delegation is still in power, appointing county school board members.
“Sometimes the majority is not always right,” Jackie Hayes tells News 13 outside his field house at Dillon High School.
Officials says because the ballot was a non-binding referendum, they’re not required to make those changes.
“For lack of a better word, it’s an opinion poll,” says Hembree.
When News 13 asked Hayes, why not make the county school board popularly elected if 90 percent of people voted that way, he told us this:
“Well, my thing is, there’s nothing wrong with the way we’re doing it right now.”
But we couldn’t’t find anyone who wanted the delegation to appoint the board.
“They’re not doing a good job. I think the school district really needs an elected school board because schools are really hurting right now,” says Dillon resident Shawn Bethea.
“We’re the tax payers, we’re the ones who should have the final say,” says Wayne Moore, who has a child in a Dillon County school.
“I don’t think it should be up to elected official. i think it ought to be the public, the general public.” Stacey Rowell, ’94 Dillon High School graduate.
Constituents aren’t the only ones concerned.
“We do support having school boards locally elected,” says Debby Elmore, spokesperson of the South Carolina School Board Association, a nonprofit that serves the state’s 81 public school districts, including both in Dillon county.
The SCSBA has had in its belief system that school boards should be popuarly elected for decades.
“There’s more direct accountability for the taxpayer-voter to the elected official, if the voter elects that person,” says Elmore.
Hayes the SCSBA is wrong.
“Their job is to make schools better, it’s not to tell us how to run it.”
But some say the current delegation lacks accountability.
“Legislators have no business controlling the county offices at all,” says Ashley Landess, president of the SC Policy Council.
She says Hayes’ role in the delegation creates a conflict of interest.
“He’s employed by the school district,” she says.
Coach Hayes sits on the delegation that appoints the county school board. The county board controls the local school district boards. And the school districts, like Dillon school district 4, sets the salaries for its employees, like “coach” Hayes, Dillon 4’s athletic director and head football coach.
According to the school district employee handbook, employees “can hold public office to the extent that neither activity conflicts with the employee’s duties in the school district.”
“Essentially one of their employees controls them,” says Landess. “How does that work?”
Hayes school salary in 2012 was about $86,000 dollars. That, plus his State Rep. salary totals $108,621 – making him one of the highest earners working in South Carolina high school sports, despite working a hundred miles away at the state house for most of January through June.
“This is just one piece of a huge mess,” Landess says.
A look into Hayes’ public disclosure forms shows some significant raises since 2008. Back then, his salary was $79,957.00. In 2012, it grew to $86,000, and in 2013 skyrocketed to $96,129 – a more than ten percent raise over one year.
“If you’re accountable to a legislator and that legislator happens to work in your school district, there’s no body to hold him accountable.”
Both the school district and Hayes maintains there is no conflict of interest between Hayes and the board he appoints.
“As long as people are working together and children are the benefactors, I don’t have a problem,” says Dillon School District 4 Superintendent Dr. Ray Rogers
“I enjoy what I’m doing in the state house,” says Hayes. “That’s not my life, this is my life here.”