TIMMONSVILLE, SC (WMBF) – The State Superintendent of Education has declared a state of emergency in Florence County School District Four because of its "chronic financial instability," according to a news release from the South Carolina Department of Education.
FCSD4 covers the Timmonsville area of the county, and includes three schools: Brockington Elementary, Johnson Middle, and Timmonsville High.
"Over the past ten years, Florence Four has lost 32 percent of its student population while still paying millions in administrative salaries and related costs. Now, with just over 600 students among its three schools, the district's finances are in dire shape and require immediate action," said State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman. "For each of the past three years, Florence Four has received the highest financial risk rating and once again was unable to submit a timely audit because of the state of its financial records. I am declaring a state of emergency in the district and will work quickly and diligently to find a sustainable solution to provide the students in Timmonsville with the opportunities they need and deserve for years to come."
The SCDOE news release cites the Appropriations Act of 2017 and 2018, which states the department "may declare a state of emergency in a district if the accreditation status is probation or denied, if a majority of the schools fail to show improvement, if the district is classified as being in 'high risk' status financially, or for financial mismanagement resulting in a deficit."
The State Superintendent may also take over management of the district, the release states.
For the past two years, the SCDOE has managed two of the district's three schools: Brockington Elementary and Johnson Middle. A state of emergency at those schools was declared by state leaders in 2016 after they said the schools were not meeting the state's educational standards. A former superintendent, Dr. Andre Boyd, was fired around that time.
Timmonsville High School and the district office are still overseen by the local school board and a mutually agreed-upon district superintendent, Dr. Rechel Anderson, who was elected last year.
Spearman said since taking over Brockington Elementary and Johnson Middle, the state has kept a close eye on the district.
"We have been watching the fiscal stability of the district for years, but not until this year did we have the authority to really do anything about it," Spearman said.
Spearman said the district's finances continues to result in a fiscal deficit and could possibly have a $100,000 deficit this year.
"That's not good stability. You cannot always be teetering on finishing your books in the red," Spearman said.
Spearman said while visiting the schools last week, students expressed the need for more opportunities.
"They wish they could go take welding and they're not offered that where districts ... students in districts nearby have that opportunity. It broke my heart," Spearman said.
Effective immediately the board has lost its authority to manage the schools. District board meetings will now be replaced by community meetings.
Spearman hopes with the district now under the state's management students will have a better chance at success.
"We're going to be working at taking some of the funding that has been placed in administration and moving it down to student resources, more in the classroom, more opportunities," Spearman said.
Spearman will be pursuing contracts with surrounding school districts and private providers for district services to "create a sustainable level of operations and management for the future."
As for Florence County School District Four Superintendent Rechel Anderson, her last day is July 1. No district-level employees are affected at this time.
The SCDOE will provide hands-on technical assistance through school transformation coaches, professional development, and direct program oversight for the rest of the school year.
"Communities and leaders across South Carolina must plan sustainably for the future and always keep the interests of our students as the top priority. It has become clear that the current model is not working here and taking away funds where they are needed most - the classroom. The students in Timmonsville deserve every opportunity to be successful and that means using tax dollars efficiently and in ways that improve student academic achievement," said Spearman.