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SCLBC: Keep Denmark college in tech system; Govan says “Let’s see how we can make this thing work’

COLUMBIA – The South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus says it’s opposed to a plan to temporarily close Denmark Technical College and convert it into an area trade school.

Rep. Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg, said the plan doesn’t solve the problem. He’s the chairman of the caucus.

“You have to look at solving the problem of Denmark Tech and address it in a holistic way. And you don’t have to necessarily take away its designation as a technical college in order to do that,” he said.

The House Ways and Means Committee’s version of the state budget would remove Denmark Tech from the state technical college system and return it to its previous role as a trade school. The full House and Senate still have to approve the change.

Govan said the proposal, “basically closes the school. It delays it for three months, closes the school and creates a study committee. So, it really doesn’t solve the problem.”

The school has been slighted financially and has not received the financial support it needs from the state, he said.

Denmark Tech Interim President Dr. Christopher Hall addressed the school’s decline in enrollment.

“I’ve put together a team and we have developed a comprehensive plan with aggressive advertising, aggressive recruiting in all of the areas of South Carolina, especially in our three-county service area,” Hall said.

“We are looking to add new programs which will attract new students, such as pre-pharmacy, funeral services. We’re also looking to expand some of our current programs: advanced welding, advanced culinary arts and degrees in mechatronics,” Hall added.

“So, we are looking at a multi-pronged approach to increase enrollment,” he said.

Hall said money from the legislature will be needed to help expand programs.

In 2017, the institution implemented the Panther Promise program offering two years of free tuition for high school graduates of public or private schools in Bamberg, Allendale or Barnwell counties.

“Panther Promise is still in place and is still helping students. Right now, I think we have about 33 students who are Panther Promise students,” Hall said.

Bamberg County Council Chairman Trent Kinard, who was at the press conference, stated that the institution has “been an important education cornerstone in Bamberg County.”

“Denmark is one of our largest employers and as a business generates over $32 million annually. That can’t be said enough because we are one of the poorest rural counties in South Carolina,” Kinard stated.

Officials in attendance agreed that if the school were into converted into a trade school, then the school’s economic impact would decrease, adding to the economic problems in Bamberg and surrounding counties.

Govan called for the issues affecting the institution to be reassessed.

“I think now would be a great time for everyone to look back and really take a serious, hard look at how we can work together to not only make the institution viable but also utilize the tremendous resource as it is to enhance the overall economic conditions in this critical area of the state,” Govan said.

Govan also stated that the S.C. Technical College System has played a role in the institution’s issues.

“What people are missing in all of this is the fact that the state tech board has been running the institution for the last 18 months. So, I think the state of South Carolina has some responsibility when its lead agency that was down there that controlled the board did the hiring and was supposed to bring about the enhancements and improvements to make it a viable institution,” Govan stated.

“If we’re saying the school failed, that means they failed in terms of their responsibilities as well,” Govan added.

The State Tech Board assumed oversight of Denmark Tech in May 2017, citing a decline in the college’s enrollment and operating balance.

Govan said the school’s issues can be resolved.

“Rather than dwell on the negative, we’re saying ‘Hey look, let’s not have a knee-jerk reaction. Let’s bring everybody to the table and let’s see how we can make this thing work,’” he stated.

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Feathered friends flock to county

Orangeburg County offers a variety of birds for people who enjoy looking out for their feathered friends.

Among them is the painted bunting. The county has had at least two sightings of painted buntings this year, according to a website called eBird.

It’s the male painted bunting that gets the most attention due to his sharp colors of blue, green and red plumage.

According to the Santee National Wildlife Refuge, the painted bunting is commonly seen in April through September. They forage the ground in dense cover, among grasses or at seed feeders.

Migratory birds are favorites among locals and visitors to the Lake Marion area.

Ring-billed gulls migrate through the region and on Lake Marion’s shores.

According to the National Audubon Society, the ring-billed gull is the most common gull in North America.

Audubon goes on to say that the ring-billed gull, “migrates in flocks, often following coastlines or major river systems. Tends to fly higher when migrating over land. Not as hardy as the herring gull, tends to move farther south in winter.”

Visitors to the areas of Lake Marion – whether shore-side or along the walking trails or in wooded areas – may see nearly 300 bird species.

Another favorite among birders – and non-birders – is the American bald eagle.

The female bald eagle stands between 35 to 37 inches, with a wingspan of 79 to 90 inches.

The male bald stands a bit shorter, 30 to 34 inches, with a wingspan of 72 to 85 inches.

These majestic birds usually weigh between 10 to 15 pounds each.

The bald eagles that are seen around Orangeburg County and throughout the Southeast are the “Southern” bald eagles – Haliaeetu leucocephalus. This species is found from California to Florida, according to the S.C. Wildlife Federation.

In 1967, bald eagles – of any species – were placed on the endangered species list.

On May 15, 2004, the Bush administration announced the American bald eagle was no longer considered a threatened species. The birds remain preserved under the federal Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940.

The more common species of birds in Orangeburg County include blackbirds, the red-winged blackbirds, double-crested cormorants, chipping sparrows, American robins, American coots, brown-headed cowbirds, Savannah sparrows, tree swallows, pectoral sandpipers, lesser scaups, mourning doves, Canada geese and many more, according to eBird.

N.Y. mayor makes news in Orangeburg visit; De Blasio videoed spreading arms to R. Kelly song

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's visit to an Orangeburg church made international news after he spread his arms to the song “I Believe I Can Fly,” by controversial singer R. Kelly.

The visit was reported by the New York Daily News, CBS News, Fox News and the British-based Daily Mail with headlines focusing on the fact that de Blasio was caught on video spreading his arms to the song.

The New York Post’s cover headline was “R. you kidding, Blas?”

N.Y York Daily News video of mayor's Orangeburg visit

De Blasio visited Orangeburg Mayor Michael Butler on Sunday at Victory Tabernacle Deliverance Temple, where Butler serves as bishop.

A video taken during the church service captured de Blasio spreading his arms like wings and flapping along with other members of the congregation as the song played.

R. Kelly faces 10 charges of aggravated criminal sexual abuse in Chicago.

He and his attorneys have repeatedly denied allegations of sexual misconduct, and he has pleaded not guilty to the charges. He was acquitted of child pornography charges in 2008.

Butler issued a prepared statement Monday saying, “I don’t believe Mr. Kelly’s music should be associated with his personal life. I began singing ‘I Believe I Can Fly’ because it was in the context of my message to our worshippers."

"It certainly was not in support of Mr. Kelly in any way," Butler continued. "As a guest at the church, Mayor de Blasio joined in the spirit and his action should not be taken out of the framework of a worship service."

A spokesman for de Blasio said, “The mayor wasn’t the church’s DJ, and he certainly can’t be expected to recognize every R. Kelly track,” according to the N.Y. Daily News.

The New York Mayor's appearance in Orangeburg followed a meeting of Butler and de Blasio at a U.S. Conference of Mayors event. De Blasio is considering running for president.

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Driver killed when vehicle hits tree near Santee

A driver died in Santee on Sunday afternoon after a vehicle hit a tree.

The accident occurred at 4:30 p.m. outside of Santee, according to S.C. Highway Patrol Cpl. Judd Jones.

A 2008 Cadillac was traveling west on Bonner Avenue when it ran off the left side of the road, struck a ditch and then a tree.

The driver, who was not wearing a seatbelt, died at the scene.

A passenger was transported to the Regional Medical Center.

The collision remains under investigation.

The S.C. Department of Public Safety’s website reports a 36-year-old male died in the crash. The driver’s identification was not available on Monday.

As of March 10, 152 people have died on South Carolina highways, compared to 155 highway deaths during the same time period in 2018, according to the SCDPS.

The SCDPS reports 28 pedestrians have died compared to 24 in 2018; eight motorcyclists have died compared to fourteen in 2018; and three bicyclists have died compared to two in 2018 on state roads and highways.

Four people have died on Orangeburg County’s roads so far this year, compared to two during the year before.

Calhoun County has seen two people die on its roads so far in 2019. No one died on Calhoun County’s roads during the same period last year.

No one has died on Bamberg County’s roads so far this year, the same as last year.

Justin Wan, AP 

De Blasio