Fairfield County School Board to Appeal Mitford Ruling

The Fairfield County School Board voted 5-2 Tuesday night to pursue an appeal of a Circuit Court decision in the legal battle between the Chester County School District and Fairfield County Schools.

Judge J. Ernest Kinard ruled July 16 that Fairfield must pay Chester approximately $3,452 in local funds for each student living in the Mitford area of Fairfield County and attending Chester County schools. It is estimated that between 100 and 200 students would have been affected by the ruling.

“We send three buses to the Mitford area every day, during school,” Board member Henry Miller said prior to the vote. “The children in the Blair community, some of them come 28 miles from their residences to the high school. The claim is that they’re (Mitford students) traveling so far. The children in the Blair area are traveling further. Also, we don’t know, maybe later, our legislators may come and say ‘we’re going to let the children in the Ridgeway area go to schools in Richland County.’ I think it’s dangerous and it’s something this board needs to fight.”

Miller voted for the appeal, as did Andrea Harrison, Marchella Pauling, Danielle Miller and Annie McDaniel, who joined the meeting by phone.

Board members Bobby Cunningham and Beth Reid voted against the appeal.

“We’ve already spent, I would estimate, over $300,000 on this thing,” Cunningham said. “We cannot make those children come to Fairfield County schools.”

And the federal money and the state money, Cunningham noted, follows the students.

“This was a sleeping dog that should have been left alone,” Cunningham said.

Kinard’s ruling stated that, based on Fairfield County’s local per student funding level of $8,875 versus Chester County’s local per student funding level of $3,452, Chester County Schools are “not unduly profiting” from the arrangement and Fairfield County Schools are not being “unreasonably burdened.”

“(The Fairfield County School District) is actually spending over $5,000 less per student than its per student revenue,” the ruling states.

The lawsuit was brought by the Fairfield County School District in June of 2010 following an act of local legislation providing for the continued funding of the approximately 200 Mitford area students who attend Chester County Schools. The District’s lawsuit claimed the legislation, introduced and passed by Sen. Creighton Coleman and Rep. Boyd Brown in the spring of 2010, was unconstitutional in that it conflicted with general law as set forth by Article III, Section 34 of the S.C. State Constitution.

In his ruling Judge Kinard noted that Article III “generally prohibits special legislation where a general law can be made to apply,” but also said that “the prohibition of special legislation is not absolute, and special legislation is not unconstitutional where the General Assembly has a logical basis and sound reason for resorting to special legislation.”

Armand Derfner, the Charleston attorney handling the case for the Fairfield County School District, said that is, essentially, what the whole case boils down to – special law versus general law.

“What it comes down to is can a general law be made or is this situation so unique that it requires a special law,” Derfner said. “Fairfield says a general law is in place. Chester says no, that this situation requires a special law.”

Kinard’s ruling stated that the Fairfield County School District “presented no evidence” that the General Assembly had abused its discretion in enacting this special legislation. The ruling also stated that the General Assembly did, in fact, have “a logical basis and sound reason” for enacting this special law.