'Corridor of Shame' producer continues to stoke fires of change

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'Corridor of Shame' producer continues to stoke fires of change

Published Saturday, January 26, 2013   |  948 Words  |  

Bud Ferillo is, if anything, patient.

It may not be his druthers, but he's had to be patient during 20 years of advocacy for the poorest South Carolina public schools.

If all goes well, a legal challenge that began in 2003 may produce a state Supreme Court ruling this year.

Hearings in the case of Abbeville vs. the State of South Carolina lasted 103 days in a rural courtroom in 2004. It included almost unbelievable testimony and evidence of dilapidated school buildings, poor funding, poor teachers, rank poverty and a totally unequal footing in life for children of more than 30 poor school districts.

From it came a tepid ruling -- which is under appeal -- that the state could do more for children ages 3 to the third grade. The rest was considered adequate.

More gripping than the courthouse headlines, however, was a 2005 documentary produced and directed by Ferillo called "Corridor of Shame: The Neglect of South Carolina's Rural Schools." It showed abysmal conditions in schools, shocking viewers into action. It touched people in Beaufort County -- statistically a wealthy place next door to the "Corridor of Shame" along Interstate 95.

Churches got involved. I rode along one day as members of St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church drove from Hilton Head Island to Estill to tutor middle school students.

Now my church, First Presbyterian on Hilton Head, is reaching out to students in Allendale and Ridgeland, with the Rev. Doug Fletcher saying it should be turned into a "Corridor of Hope."

Next Sunday, Ferillo will be at all three services chatting with Fletcher about the problem and solutions.

"The shame is on us who allowed something like this to happen," said Blaine Lotz, chairman of the church's Missions Ministry. "The shame is not on Jasper County or Allendale."


Charles Traynor "Bud" Ferillo Jr. is a graying, 67-year-old son of the Lowcountry. He has been involved in public policy since his days in the class of 1962 at Charleston's Bishop England High School. He's a Vietnam veteran who has worked on political campaigns, including the gubernatorial try by former Sea Pines president Phil Lader. He's been on the staffs of a number of legislative leaders, committees and research divisions.

At one time, he was deputy lieutenant governor, helping push through Gov. Dick Riley's Education Improvement Act of 1984. He was credited by the late state Rep. Harriet Keyserling of Beaufort with aiding her research and helping her get key committee assignments. Ferillo was the emcee at Beaufort's public memorial service for Keyserling in 2011 and remains a close friend of her son, Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling. Author Pat Conroy of Beaufort gives the introduction in "Corridor of Shame."

Ferillo now has a public relations firm and works at the Children's Law Center at the University of South Carolina.

I asked him why bother with poor schools.

"First, because I hate injustice of any kind," he said.

"Second, because I know that South Carolina -- I am a 10th-generation South Carolinian on my mother's side -- will fall further behind in national education rankings and in economic development unless we rebuild our public education system, which educates 90 percent of our school children. Private school options do not exist in many of our rural communities. Our public schools are what stand between success and failure in the lives of children who live in our poorest and most isolated communities. If a third of our school children are poorly educated, their failure will drag down the whole state.

"So it is in the self-interest of all South Carolinians to remedy these inequities and assure quality education to all our children, regardless of their ZIP codes."


The court case is full of statistics that point to a failed status quo.

"The state can create more equitable funding formulas to assure that the children in schools with the greatest needs get the greatest resources, just like special-needs children who require more funds," Ferillo said.

"The state can create a School Infrastructure Bank to replace unsafe and unsanitary school buildings. The state can create a pay system that assures equal pay for teachers to avoid 'district hopping' for higher salaries."

He is grateful for all the churches and community organizations that have been stirred to action by the documentary. But the solution goes all the way up to the state Constitution.

"The bigger issues have to be tackled by the state," Ferillo said, "which has the constitutional obligation to provide at least a 'minimally adequate education,' which the Supreme Court defined in 1998 as producing graduates from our high schools who can read, write, do math, be employable and be good citizens."

Ferillo is pushing for an amendment "to replace South Carolina's dismal standard of 'minimally adequate' with a new expectation of 'high quality education' for our public school children."

That campaign (www.goodbyeminimallyadequate.com) is going slowly, he said, because it has no money to promote it.

Something else that will require patience.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

Related content:

"Corridor of Shame: The Neglect of South Carolina's Rural Schools."

Goodbye minimally adequate