As he nears his one-year anniversary as chairman of the Horry County School Board, Ken Richardson said his biggest surprise during the year has been how much time being chairman would actually take.
“I start getting phone calls at 6:30 a.m. right up until 9 o’ clock at night,” Richardson said. “Some weeks I get six or seven, some weeks with 400 phone calls.”
He wouldn’t have it any other way, though.
“I have tried to be transparent and put my number out there and be approachable,” he said. “If I get a phone call, I’ll return it.”
He said that one thing he was excited about was that he has visited all 57 schools in the district this year.
“I’ve always been a believer that if you like what you’re doing, it’s not really a job. I enjoy what I’m doing. I don’t care what kind of day you’re having, you can go on a school visit and it just makes you feel good,” Richardson said.
Making sure students are safe at school is a main priority.
“School safety is always at the top of our list. Surprisingly you don’t hear us talk about it much, but we’re working on it all the time,” he said.
While he did not want to give away specifics, he said things are constantly being done to improve safety in the district’s schools.
“I don’t think there’s a week that goes by that we’re not tweaking it,” he said.
Richardson said there were a few things he was happiest with during his first year of overseeing the board, and the first of those was the relationships he was able to build with the board members.
“A year ago, I didn’t really have much of a relationship with the board. I don’t think a lot of them knew me. A lot of times you’re judged by what you do when you get a job,” Richardson said. “I said this when I ran. We don’t talk about stuff in the back. There’s no back room meeting, no phone calls before the meetings to find out how people are going to vote.”
He said he thinks it’s the best way to be transparent.
“Treat it like a job, give everybody a chance to talk,” he said, and he added that he thinks the board members do voice their opinion more than they did in prior years.
Number two on Richardson’s list was the initial conflict regarding board governance, be it coherent or traditional. Many wanted to go back to traditional governance, he said, which would have given the board more power.
“I took the coherent and traditional and put them together, and I did it through committees,” Richardson said, noting the development of the new curriculum and policy committees, as well as lowering the number of people on each committee.
He said he was trying to “meet in the middle” and didn’t touch that subject until he had been on the board six months, so he could have a feel for things.
The fact that the district’s budget was balanced without raising taxes was another thing on Richardson’s “proud of” list.
“My goal was to raise your children, not your taxes,” Richardson said. “We did that by voting on the pay-as-you-go thing.”
Instead of taking on more debt, or raising tax millage, the board decided in 2019 to take on a pay-as-you-go approach for paying for future schools.
Despite the massive growth in the county, don’t expect to see new schools for a while.
“When we decided to go with pay as you go, you can only spend the money you’ve got,” he said. “We don’t have any money for new schools ‘til the penny sales tax comes back up.”
He also pointed out that another district school, Ocean Bay Elementary, got a Blue Ribbon award this year.
“For us [the district] to get it, it’s just a great thing," Richardson said.
He noted some other small changes he made this year to how the board meetings are structured, including moving public comment toward the end of the meeting instead of at the beginning.
Many people who sign up to speak come from other parts of the county, and with traffic, some had a hard time making it in time for their speaking spot.
He gets frustrated with public comment sometimes, he said, because they are not allowed to respond back during that section of the meeting.
“I don’t ever want the people feeling like we’re not paying attention,” Richardson said. “We do pay attention.”
Richardson said that while he “catches heat” for it, he does his best to keep his word. Now that the board has gotten to know him, he said he is amazed how the board has gotten behind him.
“If I tell somebody I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it – popular, good, bad – I take a stand and I’m going to back it up,” he said. “They see I’m not just talking the talk, I’m out there doing it.”
“I’m pleased with my first year,” he said.