BAMBERG - Bamberg County Council passed a resolution Monday night stating its opposition to the S.C. Technical College System's recommendation that Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College take over Denmark Technical College's service area.
Saying the Denmark school can no longer operate as a standalone college, the 13-member governing board of the state's technical college system issued a letter Jan. 30 to state government leaders, citing declining enrollment and fiscal instability among the reasons it recommended that OCtech expand its service area to provide technical college training and education to students in the Denmark Tech service area.
The resolution passed Monday night by Bamberg County Council stated that while the council supported restructuring the college's mission, it opposed a proposal to have OCtech take over the institution. It included an attachment referencing a letter dated Jan. 10 that the state's technical college system had sent to Reps. James H. Merrill and Gilda Cobb-Hunter. The letter gave two options for the future of Denmark Tech - closure or a restructure of its mission to involve immediately dissolving the current area commission through legislation and turning over the college's operation to the State Board for two years.
County Council's resolution stated that the state's technical school system has the "obligation and the means" to provide a quality tech education throughout the state, particularly in rural counties where "the only way out of the downward spirals of decreasing population and decreasing tax bases and quality of life is through education, notably technical education."
The resolution also cited Denmark Tech as "offering one of the few affordable options" Bamberg County citizens had to get a technical college education and residential education experience.
Councilman Trent Kinard said while he supported the resolution, he had questions.
"Why are they (Denmark Tech) so far behind with the equipment they have? Was that a lack of funding or was that a mismanagement of funding?" Kinard asked.
Councilman Larry Haynes said, "That was a lack of funding," to which Kinard responded, "I don't know that. It's easy to say that, but I don't think so. I think it's a little bit of both."
Kinard also inquired about the rate at which OCtech is growing compared to Denmark Tech.
"Why are the buildings so bad? Why is the upkeep of their buildings so far behind? You look at Orangeburg Tech growing leaps and bounds, building new buildings. ... Why in the world was Denmark Tech not afforded that?" he asked.
"I'm not saying we don't need them. I'm just saying those are the questions that have got to be answered if we want to move forward and have Denmark Tech," Kinard said. "They're going to have to take responsibility for some of those things to move forward."
Councilman Evert Comer Jr. said, "Historically, Denmark Tech was supported straight by the General Assembly. Then, at some point years ago, the powers that be got that stopped. That's when something else should have been put in place."
"All these other counties, they're paying $100,000, $200,000 or a million or whatever it is to their local techs. To save Denmark Tech, it is going to come to us ... at some point ... for us to pay what the county decides it ought to be paying," Comer said.
Councilman Rev. Isaiah Odom said, “I don’t like to pay taxes, but I want to see the college stay open.”
Administrator Joey Preston said while he would have to check on whether tax millage could be raised for “brick and mortar” costs, “you can’t raise millage for operations.”
He said the state, however, did “have an obligation to fund Denmark Tech.”
Comer cited improper oversight of the college, which he said had been run for many years without a full commission.
"Denmark Tech hasn't had a full board in a number of years, and my understanding is that the commission members were trying to get the local delegation to appoint some (members). I think they were operating without three or four members for years and years because somebody wasn't taking care of due diligence and the oversight of the college," he said, noting that Denmark Tech also once had a "complete open door policy" that led to increased campus crime and people "going there just to get funds."
Comer said Bamberg County Council's resolution was a step forward in working to make it known the college must be salvaged.
"Denmark Tech can be salvaged, and if it only has 500 students, cut the budget to 500 students. Cut your staff to 500 students, but keep Denmark Tech here and help it pull itself together and flourish once again. ... I don't think just because a college is going through turbulent times that's a reason to shut it down," he said.
Councilwoman Sharon Hammond said, "Denmark Tech is a historical presence in this community. We have to fight to save it."
Councilman Joe Guess Jr. said the fight had to be coupled with figuring out how the college's future prosperity could be funded.
"You're going to have to do something financially to support it," Guess said. "We need to think about how we're going to respond to that."