COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - The South Carolina Public Charter School District had members of its staff working from Colorado and Florida, according a newly-released report by the state’s inspector general (SIG).
The district’s director of student information was living in Naples, FL, and the director of student information systems was living in Denver, CO, the report stated.
“The SIG assessed the out-of-state location of the program directors for student information and student information systems hindered the District’s responsiveness to charter schools, as these were two of the most critical areas for charter school operations,” it stated.
Before the pandemic, 21 district staff members were supposed to be using their office in Columbia, but the inspector general said most weren’t. He said he found only nine lived within the 50-mile commuting distance and only three to five were going in to the office every day.
Rep. Garry Smith is one of the state representatives who asked for the investigation.
“It’s very difficult to manage something when you are nowhere close to it," Smith said. “In the days of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re used to doing things remotely but not from half a country away. This is something that makes it very difficult from a management stand point."
The superintendent and his chief of staff were based in Charleston, 119 miles away from the district office, the SIG stated. He said the district leased a small, shared office space for Charleston-based employees at a total cost of $58,000 over a three-year period while the Columbia office was costing $200,000 every year.
“It was not very well thought out and well planned," Smith said. "It certainly was, I think, wasting taxpayer’s dollars in paying for both facilities.”
The report also highlighted some financial concerns.
“The SIG verified an employee indicated the District erroneously deposited $104,149 electronically into an employee’s bank account instead of the intended recipient, a charter school,” it stated. “The employee notified the District and, when contacted by the SIG, confirmed the funds were returned to the District. A District employee attributed this error to improper oversight in the payment review process.”
School District Board Chair John Payne has since sent a letter back to the inspector general.
“The evidence is indisputable that the school district met its fundamental goal of improving academics and educating students,” Payne wrote. “Overall, the report demonstrates the [school district] was an effective, successful organization during the five-year period studied. The report did not find any law, statute or regulation was violated, other than three inadvertent FOIA notice issues."
Payne also wrote that some of the report’s recommendations have already been implemented.
“The [school district] recognizes the advantages of having the superintendent and senior staff, particularly the superintendent and CFO, based in Columbia,” he wrote. “The current CFO and acting superintendent are based in Columbia, and the job posting for the permanent Superintendent indicates the Superintendent should be based in Columbia.”
The search for the next superintendent is underway now, and Smith said his work isn’t over yet. He added his committee’s inquiry involves three parts. This SIG report was the first, a financial audit report of the school district is the second, and a Legislative Audit Council report is the third.
It’s unclear if the South Carolina Department of Education is looking into the findings of this report.
“We have a longstanding policy on not confirming, denying, or commenting on investigatory matters until they are complete and can be made public," Spokesperson Ryan Brown said. "This protects the due process rights of the accused.”
The full SIG report can be found here.