School bus

Bamberg school districts 1 and 2 recently approved a preliminary plan for consolidation.

The two districts will hold a joint public meeting on the issue at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 8, at the Bamberg-Ehrhardt High School gym.

Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, and Rep. Justin Bamberg, D-Bamberg, are scheduled to be in attendance.

The plan states that the districts, “envision a county-wide school district that will be able to improve efficiency and provide students with increased educational opportunities by having a larger base of students to supply additional educational programming.”

The plan also envisions a reduced county-wide debt service millage, “that will make the county more attractive to businesses considering investing in Bamberg County. Increased economic development will increase educational and employment opportunities for the students of Bamberg County.”

The plan states that the consolidation of the districts requires a significant investment by the state.

Lawmakers approved incentives this year for school districts with 1,500 or fewer students to consolidate. The state budget provides $12.5 million in incentives, plus $37.5 million more that can be used for consolidation.

The new, merged district would be called Bamberg County School District and is slated to begin operation on July 1, 2021, or July 1, 2022. It would be governed by a five- to nine-member board of trustees elected from districts in a manner yet to be determined.

Existing schools in the two districts would remain in operation in the new district, “because the school facilities are in good condition and there is not sufficient classroom space in either district's schools to accommodate a significant number of students from another school,” the plan states.

Pre-consolidation school district zones wouldn’t need to be changed at because no schools would be closed. The plan also seeks to minimize student disruption resulting from consolidation.

The plan says a new administrative office is needed because neither district has adequate offices to accommodate the combined district.

It calls for the administrations of the two districts, assisted by their counsel, along with the state Department of Education, to complete a final plan in the fall of 2019.

The preliminary plan also calls for the Department of Education to reimburse the districts for their additional costs of counsel assisting in completing the final plan. The two districts would continue to operate as separate entities until the date of consolidation.

When the final plan of consolidation is approved by education department, Bamberg 1 and Bamberg 2 would work with their legislative delegation to secure legislative approval of the plan.

After legislative approval, a consolidation planning committee made up of the board chairs, superintendents and two staff members from each district selected by the superintendents, would govern all pre-consolidation activity, including approval of actions and expenditure of pre-consolidation funds for the new district.

Election of board members would be held at the first regular date for school board elections in Bamberg County after legislative approval of the consolidation plan. The final plan could move school board elections from April to November.

The new board members would work with the planning committee on pre-consolidation activities before the date of consolidation, but the committee would retain authority for pre-consolidation activities. The committee would be dissolved upon consolidation, and the new board members would assume office at that time.

The plan calls for the following funding items for pre-consolidation costs:

• $15.7 million for bonded debt reduction costs to reduce the consolidated district's bonded debt millage to 80 mils.

• $8.5 million for a new district administrative office (about 15,000 square feet), including a required land purchase.

• $565,000 total for facilities improvements in Bamberg 1, including $200,000 to replace HVAC units that are "end of life," $315,000 to install LED lights throughout the district for efficiency and $50,000 to renovate and update the current business lab at the high school.

• $162,000 total for facilities improvements in Bamberg 2, including $75,000 in maintenance building upgrades, $50,000 in HVAC upgrades/repairs and $37,000 for plumbing upgrades and repairs.

• $1,264,675 total for technology improvements in Bamberg 1.

• $678,000 total for technology improvements in Bamberg 2.

• $202,500 total for health and safety improvements in Bamberg 1, including $10,500 for fire alarms and $192,000 to upgrade security cameras.

• $260,000 total for health and safety improvements in Bamberg 2, including $215,000 to pay for a security fence at the Pre-K through 5 playground and $45,000 to pay for emergency radio repeaters in the schools.

• $50,000 for the operation of the consolidation planning committee. However, committee members would not be compensated for their work separately from the current compensation.

• $300,000 for pre-consolidation costs of staff to be hired by the committee to carry out required pre-consolidation functions.

• $300,000 for consultants required to carry out required pre-consolidation functions, including consultants for different areas such as technology or finance.

• $500,000 for professional services for pre-consolidation functions for the existing districts, and $100,000 for professional services for the same for the new district. The services include, but are not limited to, legal services, auditing services, facilitator services and community relations services.

The plans calls for funding the following items at consolidation:

• $2 million for salary equalization over five years for all employee categories -- teachers, administrators, staff, bus drivers, food service staff and maintenance staff.

• $150,000 for severance payments and/or other required separation costs for those losing their jobs because of consolidation.

• $300,000 for two-year consulting contracts for senior administration officials who resign, retire or lose their jobs because of consolidation so that they continue to provide guidance and expertise to the new district.

• $92,500 total for technology costs.

• $20,000 for additional PowerSchool costs after consolidation.

• $1.275 million for an Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) shortfall over five years due to consolidation.

• $1.275 million for Title I and other federal program shortfalls over five years due to consolidation.

• $80,000 for maintenance vehicles for the new district, because neither district currently has adequate maintenance vehicles

• $150,000 for the cost of disposing of unused buildings for three years after consolidation.

• $400,000 for a teacher recruitment bonuses to assist the new district in attracting talent in its first five years.

• $100,000 for the cost of moving to the new district offices after construction.

The total amount requested for consolidation is $34,424,675. Unused funds in any category may be used to pay for additional funds needed in other categories.

The plan says, “Fulfilling this vision will require a significant investment from the state of South Carolina to achieve these goals.

“Without significant investment from the state, consolidation will be a net cost burden to the citizens of Bamberg County, resulting in decreased educational investment and decreased economic development potential for the county, resulting in decreased opportunity for the students of Bamberg County.”

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