Florence Schools take first step in merging districts

Published: Jan. 13, 2022 at 11:11 PM EST
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FLORENCE, S.C. (WMBF) - Two Pee Dee school districts took a big step forward to merging Thursday.

The Florence 1 School Board appointed its superintendent, Richard O’Malley, to serve as the Florence 4 superintendent to oversee the consolidation.

State Superintendent Molly Spearman outlined a series of steps that need to happen to make Florence 1 and Florence 4 come together.

After a 6-3 vote, Florence 1 Superintendent Richard O’Malley will serve as the superintendent over both districts while those things happen.

The thought of losing some historic schools brought the Timmonsville community out in full force to try to reach a compromise.

“My child graduated from Timmonsville High School in 2016,” said Leroy Baker.

Baker grew up in Timmonsville and saw his daughter graduate from the same high school he attended.

She’s nearly through with her master’s degree in education with the intent to come back to teach in one of the Timmonsville schools she went through.

After the state superintendent ordered two of the district’s schools to close at the end of the school year, fulfilling that dream is looking difficult.

“Her plan was to come back to Timmonsville and make a difference,” Baker said. “But it looks like that future was like my future was when I was at Timmonsville, that future is gone.”

The state department of education took control of all three Florence 4 schools in 2018 after the state superintendent declared a state of emergency for the district due to “financial instability.”

By the end of this school year, she’s ordered four things to happen.

  1. The consolidation of Florence 1 and Florence 4 take effect by June 30.
  2. All middle and high school students in Florence 4 switch to schools in Florence 1 next year.
  3. Brockington Elementary will stay open as a part of Florence 1 and will be enhanced to a magnet school for the arts.
  4. Florence 1’s superintendent will begin acting as the Florence 4 superintendent and oversee the merge.

She compiled those directions into a letter to the Florence 1 school board chairman; however, the board chairman’s interpretation is that the board only has control over the superintendent’s point.

“Her request that our superintendent actually begin to dig in so these issues can be addressed and acted upon,” said S. Porter Stewart, II, the board chairman.

Three board members voted against the request, with two stating they agree to consolidate is best for Timmonsville, but they don’t necessarily agree with all of the state superintendent’s stipulations.

“I’d like to make it clear the reason for my vote,” said John Galloway, a Florence 1 school board member. “I support the consolidation, I’m just not sure I support the way we’re going about it.”

The decision left the Timmonsville parents in attendance asking one question.

“How does this change improve our community?”

Based on Thursday night’s vote, O’Malley will serve as the superintendent over both districts until the merge is complete this summer.

He’ll be tasked with facilitating those other three points the state superintendent directed, which means he’s in for a busy couple of months, and several hundred Timmonsville students will likely find themselves at new schools come the Fall.

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