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The Orangeburg County Consolidation Committee Thursday shared its preliminary data on countywide school building inventories, budgets and proposed administrative structure of the county's future single school district.

Findings from the board's finance/budgeting committee revealed the three county school districts spend roughly $126.7 million combined in general funds annually to educate 14,000 students. The numbers don't include special funds the districts receive from the state for special needs and at-risk students.

"We have to educate 14,000 students with $126 million," OCCC chairman Donnie Hilliard said. "That is how simple it is. Now, how do you do that? That is where we are, folks. We are focused on 14,000 students, period."

County Administrator Harold Young, who is chair of the board's finance and budget committee, broke down the general fund budgets, noting that Orangeburg Consolidated School District 3's general fund budget is $26,614,525, District 4's is $31,872,168 and District 5's is $68,217,852.

District 3 had 2,700 students, District 4 had 3,600 and District 5 had 6,700 students this year.

Young cited the main task for the finance committee, with the help of the districts' superintendents, is to take all three district budgets and compare what each district is spending on various line items in an effort compare budgets "apples to apples" and to make sure each budget "talks to each other."

"Curriculums cost," Young said. "We are going to one system so a curriculum has to be chosen."

"How much does that curriculum cost?" Young asked. "If it is the same one that one is using already, there is no cost to that district, but if it is a different one all three are using, it is a new cost. Those type of factors need to be flushed out."

Concerns were also raised about the districts using different financial platforms. The platform specifically generates payroll for the districts.

"This committee is supposed to get us ready to transition," Young said. "The transition committee needs to know how much we need to charge every citizen on how to educate each kid in this district. Some decisions have to be made ... so we can at least have a figure."

Lawmakers approved legislation last year requiring the merger of the county’s three school districts into one by July 2019. The 18-member committee is tasked with planning and preparing for the changeover.

A new, unified school board will be elected in November. The current school boards will continue to operate until July 2019.

Other committee reports included:

  • Assessment and inventory - Committee chairman Henry Jenkins said he has identified buildings and property assets of each district in an effort to better understand the county's school infrastructure.

"We have in excess of 60 parcels of property, and we have them identified by map number," Jenkins said. "Some facilities are closed. There are several buildings that are owned by the district that are not being used. I imagine this is across the board in each district."

It was suggested that each district examine its capital assets to ensure all properties are accounted for.

Young also suggested the committee consider creating a capital improvement plan that would entail pictures of all school properties and buildings, their condition, the assessed value, usability and replacement value.

It was also suggested information be gathered countywide on school liabilities, assets and existing contractual obligations.

  • Administrative committee - Chairwoman Dr. Jesulon Gibbs-Brown said the committee examined what the single school district's organizational structure would look like. She said the committee has looked at the similarities and differences between each district organizationally.

She suggested the new single district could be split into three general areas of central, eastern and western Orangeburg County, where there will be one superintendent with various department heads who would be responsible for their area of the county.

Gibbs-Brown said job descriptions were discussed and chief positions, such as finance, human resources and technology, were also discussed.

"We have not talked about people," she said. "We have strictly talked about positions ... . We are looking at the most effective and efficient model."

She said Sumter, Marion and Aiken counties have all been looked to as models of recent school consolidation efforts.

  • Accommodations committee - In the absence of Chairwoman Melinda Jackson, committee member Marie Walling reported the committee is trying to coordinate a meeting with the directors of special education in each district.

This meeting would enable the committee to get a better understanding and assessment of where special needs students are currently located and where they are being taught, Jackson said.

The committee's task is to ensure children with special needs and intradistrict transfer students are not left out of consolidation discussions and planning, she said.

In other business:

  • After some concerns were raised about the OCCC's decision to select current District 5 attorney Connie Jackson to serve as the committee's sole legal counsel, the panel unanimously named Andrea White of White & Story LLC to serve with Jackson as legal counsel.

White currently serves as legal counsel for School District's 3 and 4. Concerns were raised about the lack of legal representation from other districts.

It was determined that legal counsel will be needed to receive clarification on the consolidation legislation and to ensure the transition committee is doing what it has been tasked to do.

The Committee named Orangeburg County to serve as its fiscal agent tasked with processing any financial transactions of the body.

The OCCC agreed to meet regularly at 6 p.m. every first and third Thursday of the month in the Administration Center's third-floor training room at 1437 Amelia St. The panel's next meeting will be on May 3. 

The transition committee decided to hold at least one meeting in the eastern and western portions of the county before the panel is dissolved in November.

  • New District 4 Superintendent Dr. Lana Williams introduced herself to the committee.

Contact the writer: gzaleski@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5551. Follow on Twitter @ZaleskiTD.

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Business Reporter

Gene Zaleski is a reporter/staff writer with The Times and Democrat.

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