SUMTER COUNTY, SC (WIS) - Teachers, parents and students say the Sumter School District is headed down a road to destruction with "frivolous spending" and "low morale" tackling the spirits of those at the heart of education – teachers and children.
WIS investigated the Sumter School District's spending after teachers anonymously contacted the newsroom.
"The spending, the exorbitant spending on hotels, food, other things labeled as training for staff is exorbitant," said Mariah McKellar, who has two children in Sumter School District. "We've got children needing more teachers in the classroom."
McKellar referenced credit card statements found on the school district's website that outline dates of numerous trips out-of-state where hundreds of dollars were spent at one hotel in a single trip.
On other days, school officials bought large quantities of food for "professional development," which at times was $887 for Chick-Fil-A; more than $500 at Arby's; more than $1,400 at Simply Southern Bistro; and more than $1,000 for another Sumter catering company.
When two Sumter County school districts consolidated two years ago, it also inherited a $5 million deficit. To date, Sumter School District has a $2.6-million deficit.
"Professional development for our teachers, administrators and district office staff is an investment," said Shelly Galloway, Sumter School District public information officer.
"The district recognizes the importance implementing initiatives that will enhance student achievement and foster professional growth," she said. "Those who attend professional development sessions are expected to lead by example and share the information they have gleaned with their peers."
McKellar and other parents wonder if the out-of-state trips are necessary, why isn't watchful spending taking place. For three nights in July, school officials stayed at the Beau Rivage Hotel Casino at $185 per night, McKellar noted.
"Over $12,000 was spent from June to August in hotel charges," McKellar said. "I want to see that money put back in the schools."
Galloway, who could not meet with WIS on camera, said when administrators or teachers travel, they stay in the hotel that is hosting the conference they are attending.
In a letter sent to WIS by a Sumter School District teacher, she explained that it isn't the "poor economy" that is costing teachers jobs and supplies in classrooms. She said, "It is because of gross waste at the district level."
"I have no district money with which to replenish supplies my students will use the rest of the year," the teacher wrote. "Because I care about my students and don't want them to do without, I will go into my pocket and spend the little money I make to supply my room. But this won't be a problem if I can use the district credit card to buy supplies.
"And another idea," the teacher continued, "Maybe I should use the district credit card to pay for the classes I have to take in order to renew my teaching certificate. Those classes are very expensive, but cost only a drop in the bucket compared to what is being charged to the district in terms of travel and leisure."
Galloway also told WIS it is "imperative not to lose sight of additional investments" made in Sumter schools. She said $800,000 was used for technology in the classrooms; $740,000 for supplies in schools; and $195,000 to upgrade media centers.
Meanwhile, eight employees in the administration office make more than $100,000 a year; seven make more than $90,000; and six employees made $80,000 or higher. A first-year teacher with a bachelor's degree makes $30,998, while the most a teacher can make with 30 years experience with the same four-year degree will make $47,630. A teacher with 30 years of experience and a doctorate degree could make $65,973.
Overall, the Sumter School District has 288 teachers with a bachelor's degree; 108 with a bachelor's degree and additional training hours; 471 with a master's degree; 286 with a master's degree and 30 hours of training; and 24 teachers with a doctorate degree.
Sumter High School senior Blake Ward said if spending keeps growing and teacher morale continues dropping, students will suffer.
"There is not enough being spent in classrooms," Ward said. "Teacher morale is low. We feel as students, if teacher morale is low, then it is going to affect us as students because they aren't going to have the drive they need to prepare us for college."
Click here to see the Sept. 12, 2012, State Board of Education meeting when Sumter School District Superintendent Randolph Bynum asked for a waiver to not give teachers a raise. The waiver was unanimously denied. See 1:03:00 to 1:55:12 in the video for the full discussion among Bynum and State Board members.
Click here for a link to the Sumter School District's finance division to see monthly credit card statements.
Click here for a link to the 2012-2013 Teacher Salary Schedule for Sumter School District