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State takes over management of Williamsburg County schools

Staff Report //April 11, 2018//

State takes over management of Williamsburg County schools

Staff Report //April 11, 2018//

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State Education Superintendent Molly Spearman, declaring a state of emergency in the Williamsburg County School District, has taken over direct management of the district.

Spearman made the announcement Wednesday because of what she said is poor student performance and financial mismanagement, including the redirection of more than $600,000 in federal funding earmarked for students with disabilities.

Districtwide, 21% of students in grades three through eight met or exceeded state standards on the most recent state English and language arts assessment; 19% met or exceeded science assessment standards; and 15% met or exceeded math standards.

“When a district has continuous financial and programmatic issues that put its students at risk, as state superintendent, I am compelled to take action,” Spearman said in a statement. “The management decisions of the Williamsburg County School District have led to a high financial risk rating, years of deficiencies in special education and other integral programs, and a loss of hundreds of thousands of federal dollars meant to serve our most vulnerable students.”

The S.C. Department of Education has worked with the school district since the 2014-15 school year to address deficiencies in federal programs, the department said in a news release. State law allows the state superintendent to assume management of a district if its accreditation status is on probation or denied, if a majority of schools in the district fail to show improvement, if the district is classified as a high financial risk or if financial mismanagement results in a deficit.

In Williamsburg County’s April accreditation report, two of its 10 schools and one career center received “all clear” status. Seven received an “advised” status, one received a “warned” status and one received a “probation” status.  

“Williamsburg County schools receive 74% of their $16,645 per-pupil funding from the state or federal governments,” Spearman said. “The district and state must remain accountable to the taxpayers, and it is clear that the district has failed to use these dollars efficiently and effectively. These students deserve better, and we must use every dollar wisely and in ways that improve student academic achievement.”

Spearman appointed Rose Wilder, an experienced district administrator and a former superintendent of the year statewide, as district superintendent, effective immediately. Wilder will begin meeting with district and school employees, parents and community leaders this week.  

Last year, the state Education Department took over Allendale County schools, among the 36 districts that made up South Carolina’s “Corridor of Shame,” a stretch of rural, substandard schools along Interstate 95.

In 2014, after 21 years of legal wrangling, the S.C. Supreme Court found that the state had failed to provide a “minimally adequate” education to students of those schools. But in November, the state high court halted its oversight of the S.C. Legislature’s education funding, effectively ending the legal case.