State’s smallest school districts consider consolidation, officials say no schools will close

Published: Aug. 1, 2019 at 6:43 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) -This year’s state budget is providing extra funding for smaller school districts in our state to consolidate. South Carolina lawmakers have agreed to set aside funding to offer an incentive for school districts to get on board. Interested school districts have until Thursday to submit their proposals to the SC Department of Education.

“This is a huge deal and one that we’ve wanted to see happen for a long time,” state superintendent of education Molly Spearman said.

Spearman wants to be sure families understand that this does not mean there will be school closings.

“Anytime consolidation is mentioned, I think the first thing parents and students think of is I’m going to lose my school. No, this is talking about district office consolidation.”

This means, smaller school districts will combine their district offices to share positions like the superintendent, human resources staff, and the finance director. By sharing these resources, education leaders say more money can be put towards the classrooms and the students.

It’s estimated that by consolidating administration services, some school districts will save hundreds of thousands of dollars.

At last check, the Department of Education received proposals from school districts in Bamberg, Barnwell and Hampton Counties. Representatives with the Department of Education tell WIS-TV that they’re expecting to get a proposal from Clarendon County, as well, before the end of Thursday’s deadline.

Spearman says these changes will provide more rural students with resources they often don’t have access to like, “Opportunities to take welding, HVAC, cyber security, whatever – to be prepared for the jobs that are out there today and it’s very difficult to offer those opportunities in small rural areas. So, we have to be sure that we’re spending every dollar very wisely, and if you look at the cost per student on administration, it’s extremely high, the smaller the district gets.”

At least $50 million have been set aside to help the approved districts move forward with consolidation plans. This will help to fund salary adjustments, new and upgraded facilities, transportation and technology among other resources.

Priority is being given to districts with fewer than 1,500 students and will only be available to districts that submit a plan before Thursday’s deadline and are approved.

“I hope that the General Assembly – when they see the need that is coming in – that this won’t be just a one-time allocation. I’m going to be fighting for this be recurring funding. I believe that those rural areas have been neglected and it’s been very, very difficult for them to build the type facilities that they need and have the programs that they need. So, we’re committed to speaking up for them,”Spearman said.

Once the submitted proposals are approved by the Department of Education, the districts will have two to three years to make changes. Officials say this could happen by the 2021-22 school year.

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