An inventory shows some former Orangeburg County schools have been vacant for years.
Orangeburg County Consolidation Transition Committee Chairman Donnie Hilliard said the matter is something the new school district board will have to address.
"Some of those schools are just sitting out there and there is nothing in them," Hilliard said during a meeting of the OCCTC. "Our job is to list all the inventory, but when I was looking at the list I said, 'Why we got this on the list and why is this one out there?'"
For example, the former Eutawville Gaillard Elementary School and the Dantzler Middle School in Santee are empty.
Gaillard has merged with St. James when it closed and Dantzler remains empty. The schools closed about 10 to 15 years ago.
"There are some buildings out there that don't have anybody in them," he said. "We will do some research on them."
Transition Committee member Dr. William O'Quinn expressed concern about the committee getting into the decision-making process regarding specific schools.
"I don't think that is our responsibility" he said, noting that if the transition committee gets into dictating what happens to certain schools, it will certainly "take some heat" for doing so.
Hilliard clarified it is not the transition committee's job to close schools or to sell property but to make a recommendations to the new board.
He also stressed that he was not talking about closing schools currently in operation but schools that are vacant.
"That is not our job," he said.
According to the consolidation law, attendance zone changes or school closures cannot occur until the 2021-22 school year.
In other matters, Hilliard reminded each of the transition subcommittees that a first draft of recommendations and proposals will be presented before the entire committee at the next meeting. A final report will be due Nov. 1.
"The digging is over," Hilliard said."Don't get bogged down in the process."
"Creating a whole new set of policies for a new school district I think we will be getting too much in the weeds and in our timeline," he said. "We need to make sure that we get enough so the new board can get started."
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.
In subcommittee reports:
- Accommodation/Special Needs: Subcommittee member Marie Walling said the committee is working on a draft proposal and is waiting on the curriculum for the special education department from each district.
- Government and Policy: Chairman John Shuler said trying to combine policies of governance from each of the three school districts into one is a challenging task that will be difficult to complete by the Nov. 1 dissolution date of the transition committee.
Shuler said the committee has contacted the South Carolina School Boards Association, which has a model for all polices for school districts. Even with the assistance, the task is daunting.
"We are still not quitting on it" he said. "We are going to do what we can and get something to put in the hands of the newly elected board members," Shuler said, noting the trustees will be responsible for implementing the transition committee's recommendation. "We are handicapped by the fact that it is a short timeline and a huge task."
Hilliard noted that at the beginning of the new school district, it might be necessary to use one of the existing policies and financial platforms already in place until a new policy and system can be implemented.
- Finance/budget: Harold Young said the committee has found out that the largest difference between districts is in the area of principal salaries and administration due to the size and number of students at the various schools.
"When you look at the population of a Marshall and a Howard vs. a middle school in the other districts, those districts tend to vary between anywhere from from the principal side of $56,000 to $80,000," he said. "We have to finalize the overall calculations of the differences."
He said the base budgets will be taken from all the school districts and combine the differentials of the base budgets and then consolidation costs would be added. He said consolidation costs would include changing of logos, paperwork, documentation and insurance, to name a few examples.
"That would create your overall budget," Young said.
Young said in teacher salaries, the differences are alleviated somewhat because salaries are typically set based on whether the teacher has a bachelor's, master's or doctorate degree.
He said the lowest teacher base salary was $29,000 in Consolidated School District 4 and the highest base teacher salary was $31,703 in OCSD 5. Doctorate base salaries across the school districts were all about $42,000.
Young said bus driver salaries vary more significantly across the districts based on whether drivers also serve as teacher aides.
He said bus driver salaries can range from a low of about $8.65 an hour to $15.39 in OCSD5. He said maintenance supervisors salaries vary from $37,000 to $31,000.
Young said the new school district will have a total of about 2,000 full-time employees.
- Administrative: Dr. Jesulon Gibbs-Brown said the committee met with senior leadership in all school districts in technology, operations and human resources to find out how each district has operated.
The three districts will be putting together a report looking at these three areas where work needs to be done as part of the transition.
She said the flow chart will also look at personnel to determine how many employees are needed in the various operational departments in the unified district. Discussion with senior leadership mentioned the possibility of outsourcing services, though that was frowned upon.
"We believe that would not be good in many areas because we believe we have manpower on hand," Gibbs-Brown said.
Gibbs-Brown said discussion was also held on what would need to be done in the short term to prepare the computer infrastructure network to include telephone systems and cable connections.
"Those decisions we can make with our current authority ... we are working together in terms of our contacts for this year," Gibbs-Brown said, noting the new board will be responsible for entering into any future contracts.
Gibbs-Brown also said the two financial system platforms in existence at the three school districts are being reviewed to determine how files can be exported and imported from one to another.
"We are all thinking that we should go with something that someone is familiar with," she said.
Gibbs-Brown cited one example of the importance of converging auditing programs and that at the beginning of the transition, it might be necessary to use a number of systems.
"We are going to have to run on our current three systems as well as the new for a period of time," she said, noting this will most likely have to be done "until the books are closed."
In other business:
- Speaking during the public comment period, the current vice chair of the OCSD5 board, Vernon Stephens, requested the committee come up with one governing policy to ensure student disciplinary measures throughout the county are the same and to ensure accreditation standards are in place for the unified district.
- The committee unanimously adopted its $25,000 operational budget.
The budget, which will be funded by the three districts equally, consists of a $35 stipend for each committee member for 20 meetings, $14,000; food of $150 per meeting for 20 meetings, $3,000; supplies, $500; printing, $500; legal fees, $2,000; insurance, $1,000; and contingent, $4,000.
- The next meeting of the consolidation transition committee is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, July 12. The meetings are held in the third floor training room of the Orangeburg County Administrative building on Amelia Street.
- South Carolina Department of Education Director of Governmental Affairs Emily Heatwole, who attended the meeting via conference call, encouraged the committee to send her the current policies of the three districts for review as part of the process of creating a single policy for the new district.
Heatwole committed the SCDE's support when necessary during the transition process.