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8 South Carolina districts initially ask $210M in merger aid

August 26, 2019

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Eight South Carolina school districts are asking for $210 million in state aid to consolidate into four districts, an amount that’s more than four times the $50 million lawmakers set aside.

The applicants came forward after South Carolina set up the fund to encourage voluntary mergers, threatening the possibility of forced consolidation later, The Post and Courier of Charleston reports.

State schools Superintendent Molly Spearman says the state encouraged applicants to dream big, but says “a good dose of common sense” is in order.

“The money is not going to be used for the eyebrow-raisers,” Spearman said.

The requests start negotiations between the districts and Spearman’s agency for part of up to $50 million.

Four pairs of districts are applying for money: Bamberg 1 in Bamberg and Bamberg 2 in Denmark, Barnwell 19 in Blackville and Barnwell 29 in Williston, Clarendon 1 in Summerton and Clarendon 3 in Turbeville and Hampton 1 in Hampton and Hampton 2 in Estill.

The consolidating districts are guaranteed to split $12.5 million. They also get first dibs on $37.5 million designated to help poor districts pay for new construction or building renovations. The budget gives priority to shared high schools and career centers. But for the latter pot, the consolidating districts must compete with other eligible poor districts. Those other districts are requesting $74 million.

Districts added new buildings and schools and requested consultant fees, school buses, and security cameras in their plans to combine. Williston, for example, requested $60 million for a new prekindergarten through 12th grade school. The Bamberg districts asked for $8.5 million for a new administration building and $450,000 for severance or consulting contracts for administrators who lose jobs.

State leaders say requests for spending on administration is particularly a nonstarter, considering consolidation is aimed at reducing the high administration costs of small districts.

House Speaker Jay Lucas said the districts were supposed to “make sincere requests for the benefit of the students they educate, not for administrators.”

“The purpose of these funds is to cover realistic and actual costs associated with school district consolidation, not ‘big dreams,’ ” the Hartsville Republican said.

School superintendents in districts that could consolidate say they knew they would not get all the money they requested.

“We were told to ask for anything that might be needed,” said longtime Bamberg Superintendent Phyllis Schwarting. “We know this is a wish list that can’t possibly be funded in totality.”

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Information from: The Post and Courier, http://www.postandcourier.com

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