‘The fight is on’: Florence Four school board try to stop district’s consolidation

Published: Jun. 23, 2021 at 8:59 AM EDT
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TIMMONSVILLE, S.C. (WMBF) - Florence School District Four’s board of trustees met for the first time in more than two years as they try to stop the district’s consolidation.

“I’ve heard people in this community say, particularly a grandfather, he said they don’t intend to send their kids to Florence One, and if they don’t plan to send their kids I guess you’re going to jail everybody in Florence Four, so I’d say the fight is on,” board spokesperson Dr. Gary Burgess said.

In 2018, the state Department of Education took control of Florence Four after the district was placed under a state of emergency due to chronic financial instability.

In March, State Superintendent Molly Spearman announced Florence Four would be consolidated with Florence School District One, which would mean the closure of Timmonsville High School.

Burgess said the state’s takeover is unconstitutional and unlawful and if they don’t fight it, Timmonsville High will die.

“I personally feel she’s bullied these people to the point they were timid and concerned about meeting, but they weren’t dissolved but she did somehow call off a board election,” Burgess said.

Trustees made several votes, but these votes hold no power. So, they’re looking to the South Carolina School Board Association for legal help.

Burgess said this could range from a conversation between the board and Spearman, a complaint or possibly suing the state Department of Education.

Department of Education spokesperson Ryan Brown said the takeover of Florence Four was well within the state’s rights.

In response to Tuesday night’s meeting, Brown sent WMBF News the following statement:

“The meeting of the four board members led by Florence County School Board members this evening in which they voted to reinstate their board pay and have access to funding meant for students and educators, was just another ploy by a group of adults who are more concerned about themselves than the students in Timmonsville.

The state’s takeover of Florence Four occurred in 2018 and was done under powers granted to the State Superintendent of Education by the General Assembly. The takeover was not only lawful but direly needed after the abysmal financial shape that the school board put the district in as well as decisions made by the board that led to student academic outcomes being amongst the lowest in the entire state. Since that time, the district, through the state’s involvement, has made substantial progress as evidenced in your news station’s prior reporting. However, the financial situation with a district of 600 students is not sustainable and consolidation with nearby Florence One will put the district on firm financial footing and provide the students with college and career academic opportunities that they do not currently have.”

Florence Four’s board will hold a workshop on July 6 and plan to hold more public meetings going forward.

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