A state budget proviso concerning consolidation of administrative functions in certain school districts, including Bamberg County’s two districts, has efficiency and cost reduction at its core, education officials say.
The South Carolina General Assembly’s Appropriations Act for 2018-19 includes the proviso that any school district with less than 1,500 students may be directed by state Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman to consolidate administrative and professional services with one or more school districts.
Other school districts affected by the mandate include any that have been designated in fiscal watch, caution or emergency status; have a risk assessment of medium or high; have a school or is a district with an accreditation status of probation or denied, or have a school or schools that have been in improvement status for three years.
“It is a budget proviso passed by both bodies of the General Assembly. … This is not consolidation. It is shared services, the goal of which is to create stronger partnerships between these small districts to provide high-quality opportunities for students, save funding and create sustainable systems of scale,” said Ryan Brown, the S.C. Department of Education’s chief communications officer.
Bamberg County School District 1 (Bamberg-Ehrhardt) and Bamberg County School District 2 (Denmark-Olar), which have 1,366 and 655 students respectively, are among a list of 13 districts with fewer than 1,500 students.
Under the proviso, shared administrative and professional services include, but are not limited to: finance, human resources, procurement, administrative functions, transportation and collaboration on increasing instructional offerings.
Also under the proviso, the state superintendent of education notifies each district in writing if it has met one of more of the criteria. Each district then has 30 days from receipt of the notification to deliver a plan to the superintendent for her approval.
Bamberg 2 Superintendent Dr. Thelma Sojourner said the two county school districts are working on a plan through the Salkehatchie Education Consortium.
“That’s a group of districts that come together to share services, professional development, ideas and innovative, and creative solutions to school situations,” Sojourner said.
Dr. Teresa Pope is executive director of the Salkehatchie Consortium which also includes the following districts: Barnwell 19; Barnwell 45; Barnwell 29; Allendale County; Jasper County; Hampton 1; Hampton 2; Colleton County; Orangeburg 4 and Dorchester 4.
“The proviso requires the districts to plan for sharing resources. Bamberg 1 and 2 are in the Salkehatchie Education Consortium, and we’ll be meeting on Sept. 12 to talk about services that we’re already sharing so that we can write a plan.
“They’ve already started sharing a school food service director, and they also go to the same career center. So it’s just a matter of seeing what other resources they could share to save funds,” Pope said.
Bamberg 1 Superintendent Phyllis Schwarting said the consortium meets “sort of on an as-needed and an as-available basis with other districts.”
“Right now I think that the consolidation is probably more administrative than instructional at this point. Now I certainly don’t know where it’s going in the future, but right now that’s pretty much what it is,” Schwarting said.
Under the proviso, the state education superintendent must either approve or amend the plan within 15 days of receiving it. Plans must be implemented within 60 days of approval. If a district fails to submit a plan, the superintendent would direct the consolidation of services with another school district. If the district fails to comply, the state DOE will withhold 1 percent of the district’s Education Finance Act allocations until it does.
Sojourner said the two Bamberg districts have been sharing certain services for more than a decade, with sharing a food service director being new.
“We've always shared with adult education, so that wasn't unusual for us because we had to share those services. And we share services with Cope Vocational Center because we share the alternative school, and we also share the vocational school course offerings. Those are some things that we already have in place that we have been sharing,” Sojourner said.
“We have not really addressed the technology piece, but we're going to have a meeting with other small districts in our consortium. And in that meeting we're going to talk about how we're going to develop the plan that the state department has asked us to submit,” Sojourner said.
Pope said the consortium meetings will be beneficial in getting plans put together.
“We are already working. Whenever the deadline comes, we should have a plan written. … It shouldn’t take long. We’ve got six districts in the Salkehatchie Education Consortium that have to write a plan. We’re going to do that together. So there will just be one plan coming from our consortium that reports that what the six districts with less than 1,500 students will be doing,” Pope said.
“When you have a district with less than 1,500, you can share food service directors, you can share HR people. There are lots of ways that you could combine staff so that one person can serve two or three districts.”
Sojourner said parents of Bamberg 2 students were informed during a Viking Night event on Aug. 23 about the districts sharing a food service director.
“We introduced her to the group. The parents in our community are aware of the services that we share through adult education and the Cope Area Career Center. That’s been in existence for more than 15 years,” Sojourner said, noting that the proviso does not negatively impact schools.
“It won’t impact us negatively. We don’t mind working together with the other district in terms of making a positive change in the lives of children. So that’s no problem for the district itself,” she said.
Schwarting said, “I think it’ll be a positive thing. Thelma and I have a good relationship as I think I do with all the other superintendents in the area. We work well together, and I don’t look for that to be any problem at all.”
According to the S.C. Department of Education, other districts with less than 1,500 students impacted by the law are:
- Allendale County (1159)
- *Barnwell 19 (Blackville-Hilda) (597)
- Barnwell 29 (Williston-Elko) (897)
- Clarendon 1 (Summerton) (764)
- Clarendon 3 (Turbeville) (1,266)
- Florence 2 (Hannah-Pamplico) (1,144)
- Florence 4 (Timmonsville) (689)
- Florence 5 (Johnsonville) (1,227)
- Greenwood 51 (Ware Shoals) (941)
- Hampton 2 (Estill) (711)
- McCormick County (780)