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Special needs students and students attending schools outside of their district may be able to continue attending their current schools once Orangeburg County’s three school districts are consolidated.

The possibility was discussed last week at the meeting of the Orangeburg County Consolidation Transition Committee.

"The recommendations are that special education programs remain intact at their current locations based on the accommodations available at each site," said William O'Quinn, a member of the subcommittee looking at the issue.

"Some schools have special needs rooms and there is no need for those to be handled at other places,” he said.

The consolidation transition committee's Accommodations and Special Needs Subcommittee presented its proposal on Thursday.

O'Quinn said current transfer students going to a school outside of their district should be “grandfathered in,” or allowed to continue to do under school consolidation.

He also said the new, consolidated school board to be elected in November should create a policy for such students after the creation of the new school district.

O'Quinn also said the subcommittee recommends the new consolidated school district continue to use the William and Mary School of Education gifted and talented curriculum.

"That doesn't preclude from using other curriculum in addition to that," he said.

The subcommittee also suggested that the consolidated school district accept gifted and talented students from across the state.

In other matters, committee members discussed the challenge of ensuring contracts related to teacher salaries and vendors are signed and entered into within the proper time frame needed for the successful operation of a new school year and district.

"There are certain things that have trigger dates like contracts for teachers and contracts that have to done, implemented and signed so the good teachers and staff that we do have don't get scared and run away because they don't know what is going to happen when the new board comes on board in November," Finance and Budget Subcommittee Chair Harold Young said.

Young said it is important that contracts be signed in a timely manner in order to get the best rates for the county taxpayers.

Young said another consideration is that currently each school district has different millage rates and, therefore, some districts have better access to funding, allowing them to provide different services and to pay teachers different salaries.

Young said there will have to be a standardization of services, including technology and teacher salaries, across the entire county which could end up increasing costs beyond the current $126 million total general fund of all three districts.

Committee member Aaron Rudd expressed his concerns.

"It is important when all this happens that folks working get a paycheck on time and not miss it," he said. "If they do, that is going to be an uprising."

Samantha Farlow-Moyd, who is a parental appointment to the board, expressed concerns about the increasing costs under consolidation, especially at the beginning due to the administration of the new district.

"What I worry about is where are we going to get the money from in order to recruit more teachers?" she said. "How are we going to be able to offer bigger bonuses to teachers and how are we going to make sure our teachers stay?"

"I don't want to deal with a teacher shortage because we have to deal with all these administrative costs," she continued.

Some committee members said contractual issues are the responsibility of the new board and not the transition committee.

Dr. Jesulon Gibbs-Brown said due to the timeline the transition committee is operating under, it would not have the authority to enter into contracts nor would it be able to meet the contractual deadlines needed for a new school year.

"There needs to be somebody that can fill in that gap," she said.

O'Quinn said he did not think it was the committee's role to sign or enter into contracts related to the new school district.

"I think we as a committee can't do any of that except to make suggestions to the board and hope the board, after they take their oath, hit the ground running because they have a lot of stuff to do and really not enough time to do it in," he said.

Farlow-Moyd expressed her confidence that the new board will have the knowledge and competence to carry out the task before them.

"I really think the board members who we will elect will be ready for this," she said.

Committee Chairman Donnie Hilliard encouraged subcommittees to continue to do their work and to “think out of the box” despite any negativity they may be receiving from outside sources.

"We as a team, a committee, will collectively put it together," Hilliard said. "Do your job, bring it back to the committee what you think and what you find. When we get this report it, will be from this committee and not from the subcommittee."

A first draft of subcommittee recommendations and proposals will be presented before the entire committee July 1. A final report will be due Nov. 1.

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 other subcommittee reports:

  • Government and Policy: Dr. Jesulon Gibbs-Brown said the subcommittee has been connected to the South Carolina School Board Association and its legal team to see what services the SCSBA can provide.
  • Assessment/Inventory: Subcommittee Chairman Henry Jenkins said the three school districts have ongoing contracts of about $7.4 million a year, with Orangeburg Consolidated School District 5 having contracts of $4.4 million. Total capital assets of all the three districts combined are estimated to be $136.6 million.

In other business:

  • Hilliard informed committee members the committee's budget during the transition process is $25,000, meaning each district is responsible for allocating about $8,333 toward the committee.
  • The estimated budget includes a $35 stipend for each of the committee's members for each meeting. With a total of 20 meetings, the total stipend budget is about $14,000. For meals at all the meetings, the estimate is $3,000; miscellaneous is $1,000 and unassigned is $7,000. The budget will be officially approved at the committee's June 21 meeting.
  • Two representatives from the state superintendent’s office plan to be at the June 21 meeting to provide insights and resources to help the county continue to successfully go through the consolidation process.
  • The next meeting of the consolidation transition committee is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, June 21. The meetings are held in the third floor training room of the Orangeburg County Administrative building on Amelia Street.

Contact the writer: gzaleski@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5551. Check out Zaleski on Twitter at @ZaleskiTD.

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Staff Writer

Gene Zaleski is a reporter/staff writer with The Times and Democrat.

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