Some lawmakers preparing to take concerns of Richland One community directly to the governor

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Published: Oct. 27, 2023 at 8:35 PM EDT
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RICHLAND COUNTY, S.C. (WIS) - Some Richland County lawmakers are preparing to take the concerns of the Richland School District One community directly to the governor.

This comes after the district abruptly reassigned 11 teachers to new schools mid-year, sparking public outcry.

RELATED CONTENT/ Richland One reassigns teachers to new schools prior to fall break, infuriating families

RELATED CONTENT / Chart from Richland County School District One details teacher reassignment plans

Impacted families have said this is the latest example of mismanagement by district leadership.

RELATED CONTENT / Hundreds of Richland One parents, teachers and students rally to protest mid-year teacher reassignments

A handful of the lawmakers in the Richland County Legislative Delegation are expected to sign onto a letter to Governor Henry McMaster, outlining some of the concerns they have been hearing from parents and teachers, and asking him to look into them further.

“I think it’s incumbent on me to put pen to paper and let the governor know this because he has the ability and resources to see if these concerns are warranted or not, and to take action if he sees fit,” Rep. Seth Rose, D-Richland, said. “I am receiving over 100 calls, emails and letters about an issue that all points back to distrust in the school system, and I think every person, every citizen, and even the school district deserves to have the air cleared.”

Other legislators say there is no role for the delegation in this case, and such any investigation would be a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Most, however, believe that the reassignment situation was not properly handled.

RELATED CONTENT / SC’s largest education association on Richland One teacher reassignments: ‘It’s ignoring the human element of education’

Rose said beyond the teacher transfers, he has heard about other allegations, including money not being spent appropriately within Richland One.

Rep. Heather Bauer, D-Richland, has heard about similar problems.

She has been leading efforts for accountability in the aftermath of the abrupt reassignments, and has said this issue has elicited more calls to her office than any other.

Some of the schools affected by the moves are within her district.

Bauer helped lead a rally of students, teachers and students from district headquarters to the State House on Monday, and attended Richland One’s board meeting on Tuesday, where the reassignments were addressed publicly for the first time.

RELATED CONTENT / Richland One community packs auditorium for district’s first board meeting since teacher reassignments

Rep. Beth Bernstein, D-Richland, said what she has heard from constituents about the district in recent days has been “troubling.”

“It’s not just about the teacher reassignment, I think that was the last straw that broke the camel’s back,” she said. “It really is based upon what I’m hearing from parents, teachers, constituents, students, this is an ongoing problem with the district. And based upon what certain allegations are being made, it might warrant an Inspector General investigation, similar to the one that the governor implemented for Richland District Two.”

Under a new statute, the governor has the authority to call on the Office of the State Inspector General to investigate if there is credible evidence of malfeasance.

The Inspector General can take a look at waste, fraud, abuse or mismanagement.

This group of lawmakers on the delegation also wields power to request such an investigation if a majority of delegation members think it is appropriate.

There does not appear to be that consensus currently, though.

Rose said he is aware that there are different sentiments on this issue, and he is not being accusatory that there is anything amiss.

“I’m simply doing job to represent the citizens I represent, I want to make the governor aware of this because certainly he has the resources and the ability, along with the Superintendent of public education statewide, to allocate resources to look at this and make sure everything is okay,” he said.

Richland One is currently under fiscal watch, the lowest level of budgetary concern for school districts under state law.

Rep. Annie McDaniel, D-Fairfield, said she believes the situation is likely better served under State Superintendent of Education Ellen Weaver’s purview, and would prefer to see that process play out before any additional action is taken.

“I think that we probably should given her an opportunity to figure out this fiscal watch and whether or not it’s warranted, and whether or not there’s something additional that needs to be done,” she said.

She said the delegation has not had conversations about fiscal concerns or malfeasance in Richland One.

Sen. Dick Harpootlian, D-Richland suggested other possible avenues to address the situation.

“The latest outrage by the school district is just another piece of evidence that we need to do major, major overhaul of School District One, and I am looking for legislative solutions,” he said.

Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Richland, said he is “very supportive” of Richland One and its administration.

He shares the concerns of these parents, but pointed out that this has happened for years at other schools.

If allegations are being levied due to frustration about the reassignments, that is not fair, Jackson said.

McMaster weighed in on the transfers earlier this week, and said he did not believe it was handled in the “best way.”

The governor’s office said to this point they have not seen evidence that would rise to the level of an Inspector General investigation.

In a statement, Richland One spokesperson Karen York said, “Richland One has received the highest honors in the areas of governmental accounting and financial reporting for 35 consecutive years. Like any school district, we strive to be fiscally responsible and operate in the most effective and efficient manner possible.”

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