Local school districts are requesting millions from the state for a variety of projects.
Orangeburg County School District is seeking $10 million for a regional career center, Calhoun County School District is seeking $1.5 million for health and safety upgrades and Bamberg County school districts 1 and 2 are seeking $8.5 million for a consolidated administration building.
District wish lists are currently under review and may or may not be funded. The state is mulling how to spend $50 million which the General Assembly provided to assist small school districts in the state's poorest counties.
Cost of consolidation
Lawmakers set aside $12.5 million to be split among school districts that plan to consolidate, including Bamberg school districts 1 and 2. Those districts will also be given the priority when the state divides the remaining $37.5 million lawmakers set aside to help poor districts pay for new construction or building renovations.
"There is not an established timeline. We are still reviewing the plans and asking questions of the districts on items we are unclear on before we begin the approval process," state Department of Education Communications Officer Ryan Brown stated via email.
The state is encouraging districts with fewer than 1,500 students to consolidate administrative and professional services with one or more school districts.
Bamberg 1 and 2, both with fewer than 1,500 students, have completed and submitted a consolidation plan that they worked on through the Salkehatchie Education Consortium.
The consolidation plan for Bamberg School Districts 1 and 2 includes requests for a new $8.5 million administrative office, $727,000 for facilities improvements, $1.2 million for technology improvements and $462,500 for health and safety improvements.
The plan also has requests for the following: $300,000 for consultants to "carry out required pre-consolidation functions"; $150,000 for severance payments for those who lose their jobs because of consolidation and $300,000 to keep senior administrator officials who resign, retire or lose their jobs because of consolidation as consultants.
Bamberg 2 Superintendent Dr. Thelma Sojourner said, "I know that when you combine two districts, or many other districts as it has happened in the state, you have to have someone there that has the knowledge base so that they can make for a smooth transition.
"If you move all of the people out that have the information about the district when they start a new district, it may not go as smoothly as it should and you may not have everything in place for children."
Brown said funding will not be tied up in administrative costs.
"Our goal for consolidation is to help save the district(s) money by running a more efficient district office so that resources can make their way to the classroom rather than be tied up in administrative costs. So those funding decisions will be reflective of proposals that help meet that goal," he said.
The consolidation plan for Bamberg school districts 1 and 2 also includes requests for $150,000 to dispose of unused buildings for three years after consolidation and $100,000 for the cost of moving to the new district office after construction.
and Calhoun projects
The Orangeburg County School District began as a newly consolidated district on July 1 with the merger of the former Orangeburg Consolidated School Districts 3, 4 and 5.
It has its own list of projects.
The list includes $1 million for technology upgrades inside school facilities, $1 million for upgrades associated with career and technology education programs and $1 million for deferred maintenance needs.
There was also a request for $10 million for the construction of a career and technology education facility to be shared with the Calhoun County School District and Dorchester School District 4.
The proposed facility would be 150,000 square feet and located on the east side of Orangeburg County near Interstate 95.
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"While this qualifies under the requirement of poverty index of 70 percent or higher, or an index of taxpayer ability less than .009, it does not fall under the prioritization of serving multiple school districts with less than 1,500 students," Brown said.
When first contacted Wednesday about the request, OCSD Board Chairman Peggy James-Tyler said she was unaware that such a request had been made and that she would have to call interim OCSD Superintendent Darrell Johnson to see if he was aware of it.
When contacted the following day, James-Tyler said, “I talked with Dr. Johnson and he said he was going to check it out and get back with me. … So we don’t know whether it’s just for Calhoun or those other schools or what, but we don’t have any information on that.”
When asked about the request later Thursday morning, OCSD Superintendent Dr. Darrell Johnson said the request was part of a "wish list" of items that the district submitted, but didn't provide further detail on the regional career center or other requests. Johnson said he would provide a statement later this week.
Calhoun County School District Superintendent Dr. Steve Wilson and Dorchester School District 4 Superintendent Dr. Morris Ravenell said they were unaware of the request for a shared career center.
"I don’t have any idea what that’s about. ... Really, if I was going to do something with the career center, it would probably be with the Orangeburg Technology Center because we send kids there. So what I would probably want to do is bring those programs back to our campus if we possibly could," Wilson said.
Wilson said some of his district's students already attend Orangeburg County's Technology Center in Orangeburg.
“We’ve got, I guess, four or five different programs that our kids are interested in. So we send them there. But we also pay them for those students as well. So it would behoove us if we could get those programs back here so that we didn’t have to pay anybody else to provide those services for us. So that’s kind of the way our thought process is," Wilson said.
Wilson said while the district doesn't have a stand-alone career center, "We do have some of the career and technology education courses within the high school."
Ravenell said he is aware of the money that’s available to help districts, but "I don’t know anything about going in with Calhoun County."
He added, "We have a career center here already that we share with the other Dorchester district, Dorchester 2."
The Calhoun County School District has made its own funding request from the state: $1.5 million for health and safety upgrades; $200,000 for technology upgrades inside school facilities and $500,000 for upgrades associated with career and technology education programs.
Wilson said, "We’re always looking to upgrade our security within the buildings with the latest technology. You hear all this stuff now. So you know how cognizant everybody is about the safety of staff and the students. And so that's what kind of headed our list.
“And then, you know, we’re always trying to upgrade our technology. We were probably first in the immediate area at least with upgrading technology in the buildings. All of our kids have devices now and teachers and everybody else. We want to stay on top of that."
Wilson said he realizes that not every district's request will be funded.
“It’s all just the state department gathering input. Obviously it ain’t enough money anywhere to cover everything that everybody’s asking for. So at least they just get an idea of the thought process for what we’re thinking. So that’s it.
"We decided any time small districts can even have a hint of getting some extra money to do anything with, we feel like we have to at least apply, or send our intent in. So that’s what that’s about," he said.
Hoping for funding
Sojourner said she is hopeful that the funding requested by Bamberg school districts 1 and 2 will be granted.
"The whole train of thought while we were meeting was focusing on the point that what we do should be focused on is the best interest of the children. That was our focus," she said.
Sojourner said tax relief for county residents was also a topic of importance, particularly since Bamberg 2 is constructing a new K-8 school that will be attached to a renovated Denmark-Olar High School.
"We're just building a new school on this side of the county. Bamberg got theirs (Richard Carroll Elementary School) about four years ago. So we wanted to make sure that we could get relief with taxes in the community so it wouldn't have such high taxes for the people," she said.
Bamberg 1 Superintendent Phyllis Schwarting, who plans to retire at the end of the school year, said she had no comment about the funds the consolidating districts are requesting from the state.
"We're going through this process as best we can. We don't have any answers because the state doesn't have any answers. That's really all I could say," she said.