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Denmark Tech Commission Chairman Thomas Williams


Surprise! Surprise!

On Jan. 30, the State Board for Technical and Comprehensive Education issued a letter to our state leaders recommending that Denmark Technical College be closed and Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College take over DTC’s service area. The only surprise was the fact that the recommendation came in January 2018 and not in November 2018 as Senate Bill S480 originally stated.

In the second paragraph of the State Tech letter, they stated that after diving more deeply into the operations of DTC, they found irreparable problems stemming from a decline in enrollment, a lack of financial stability and neglected facilities. This is exactly what was predicted back in March 2017 when State Tech decided to take over. This also contradicts what State Tech reported to the General Assembly in an article on Nov. 26, 2017, which stated, “Denmark Tech is improving, more to come.”

State Tech’s letter states that DTC’s enrollment dropped from 1,678 in the fall of 2014 to 523 in the fall of 2017. In fact, the enrollment in the fall of 2014 was 1,603 and in the fall of 2017 State Tech had already taken over the college and the enrollment at that point began to decline by design. Orangeburg-Calhoun Tech was allowed to recruit heavily in the DTC service area, a substantial number of programs were eliminated, negative publicity generated by State Tech’s taking over the college affected the enrollment and transportation for students was cut drastically.

Additionally, a myriad of other strategies implemented by State Tech contributed greatly to the demise of DTC. For example, hiring an inexperienced president, closing down the human resource department at the college, not replacing the director of grants and contracts, hiring a VP of finance with no higher education experience, removing the SACSCOC liaison, not replacing the default manager, removing the person in charge of procurement, releasing over 20 employees created low morale among employees, and increasing tuition twice since they took over. Given these facts, why would one expect the school to do anything other than decline over the past 11 months?

State Tech also claims that the last two audits have indicated material weaknesses and significant deficiencies in internal controls. This was not the case. The 2016 audit was completed and found to be clean, unqualified and without deficiencies. However, the audit that was performed after State Tech arrived did show material weaknesses and significant deficiencies in internal controls.

State Tech continued to mislead the public about the financial conditions of DTC. The fund balance is not cash in the bank; it is the value derived from the appreciation analysis of our buildings and other capital assets. DTC has not benefited from building renovations or additions like other colleges in the technical college system because of inequitable or no funding from the state and a lack of supplemental funding from the counties in the DTC service area.

Beginning in 2014-15, Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB 68) required state agencies to record in their fund balance analysis an estimate of the employees’ pension liability should the state pension program be compromised. As a result of this requirement, DTC’s $11.1 million fund balance decreased by $9 million in 2014-15. In 2015-16, DTC’s fund balance recorded another $300,000 decrease based on GASB 68. This is what contributed to the fund balance ending with $284,918. This did not affect our cash on hand. DTC has ended each fiscal year with sufficient cash on hand to continuously meet its day-to-day operational needs without difficulty or financial hardship.

The ending cash balance for the last three years was $3.3 million in 2013-14, $3.8 million in 2014-15, and $2.4 million in 2015-16. When State Tech took over, the college had $2.7 million in the bank. State Tech has not provided adequate funding and resources to ensure the institution’s success.

Senate Bill S480 stated that State Tech should consult with the other stakeholders about the direction of DTC. There have been no communications with county governments, city governments, alumni -- and even the newly appointed advisory board had no knowledge of State Tech’s recommendation to close the school.

State Tech says they recognize the fact that DTC has a long and valued history as one of the state’s Historical Black Colleges and Universities and the only HBCU in the technical college system. And they also recognize that the college’s service area includes some of South Carolina’s most rural and economically challenged areas. This makes access to a quality technical education even more essential.

Closing DTC would not only deny students access to post-secondary technical education, but it will also have a devastating economic impact on the Town of Denmark, and on Bamberg, Barnwell and Allendale counties. Yet they still are recommending that DTC be closed.

State Tech representatives including Dr. Tim Hardee, system president, repeatedly said in articles, to the media, to the delegation, to the students, faculty and staff at DTC over the last 11 months that there were no intentions to close DTC.

Hope Rivers, VP of academic affairs at State Tech, declared at a press conference, “The state board is not considering closing the school.” She further stated, “from a technical college system office perspective, we certainly have no intentions of shutting down Denmark Tech. Many of our intentions align with their intentions.”

Considering the condition of the college today since State Tech’s takeover, one can agree that the college has not fared well under State Tech’s control. The school cannot survive with just three major programs or as an independent school.

The school can survive with the right leadership and adequate support. The school can survive with people in charge that care and when it is treated with fairness and equity. DTC deserves the same support that every other technical college in the system is afforded. Let’s not ask for only three programs and an independent school but rather, let’s ask for what is fair, equitable and rightfully ours.

In his State of the State address, the governor suggested that South Carolina has one of the best technical college systems in the country and Tim Hardee stood up and received his applause. But I wonder if the governor really understands what Tim Hardee and this wonderful technical college system is doing to DTC and to the citizens in Allendale, Bamberg and Barnwell counties? The governor needs to ensure that Denmark Tech is restored to the viable institution that it was before State Tech assumed management.

Thomas L. Williams is past chairman of the Denmark Technical College Area Commission.


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