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Williamsburg County School District Now Under Control of State Education Department

At State Education Department in Columbia, Superintendent Molly Spearman announces state of emergency in Williamsburg County School District.
Thelisha Eaddy/SC Public Radio

State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman declared a state of emergency in the Williamsburg County School District and will now take over day-to-day operations. During a press conference in Columbia, Spearman cited financial mismanagement, systemic programmatic issues, and poor student academic performance for her decision.

“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."

Spearman said the Department of Education has attempted to work with the district since the 2014-2015 school year to clear up deficiencies in federal programs. But because the district failed to address substantial, systematic issues more than $600,000 dollars that could have been used for the education of special-needs children were lost/redirected back to the federal government.

When it comes to student academic performance, statewide, Williamsburg County has had some of the lowest levels in the state for multiple years. According to the Education Department, only 21% of students in grades three through eight met or exceeded state standards on English Language Arts assessment.Only 15% met or exceeded standards in Math, 19% met or exceeded in Science. 

Spearman has appointed Dr. Rose Wilder, a district administrator and former South Carolina superintendent of the year, to serve as district superintendent effective immediately. Wilder will report directly to Spearman and will begin meeting with school and district employees, parents and community leaders this week.

Florence School District 4 (Timmonsville School District) and Allendale County Schools

The State Education Department has taken over and controls the day-to-day operations of three school districts. In 2016, Spearman announced the takeover of Florence School District 4 (Timmonsville School District) and in 2017, for the second time, the takeover of Allendale County Schools.

In Timmonsville, Spearman said progress is being made on student’s formative test and that teachers are glad the State is in the schools helping them. But she adds she still has concerns about the district’s stability, mainly because of its size.

“It’s very small and its very, very difficult to make ends meet when you’re that small and still have to put money into administrative cost.”

Spearman said because the district cannot afford the expertise that it needs, she will meet with Timmonsville school leaders next week about possibly sharing services with other districts. She adds they are having discussions with other districts, like Florence 1 and Florence 3, to see how things could work; not so much as in a full fledge consolidation, she said,  but at least the first step of shared services at the district level.

As for Allendale County schools, Spearman said in the year the state has been there, stability has been established. She said Interim superintendent Dr. Walt Tobin, who was initially to serve for three months, served well and finished the year.  Margaret Gilmore was named superintendent and will continue on for the next year.