WILLIAMSBURG COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - The state department of education is taking over the Williamsburg County School District.
State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman declared a state of emergency for the district less than 24 hours after visiting Kingstree Senior High School Tuesday night.
"This decision is not one that I take lightly and comes after many months of reflection and discussions with stakeholders," Spearman said in a statement.
Spearman says the school district has been suffering from financial mismanagement, systematic programming issues, and poor student academic performance.
According to officials with the South Carolina Department of Education, the school district has also lost over $600,000 in funding which could have been used for special instruction to students with disabilities.
The district's board and superintendent have been fired, and Dr. Rose Wilder has been appointed to serve as district superintendent.
Rev. Alfred Darby is the Board Chair of Williamsburg County.
He says he didn't receive notification from the state that the board was fired as of Wednesday evening.
"What is happening is that the legislative delegation wants to control the school district...to me it's politically motivated," Darby said.
Darby says there are a lot of businesses that have closed in the county that has led to a lack of jobs and a population decline. He says that impacts the money the district receives from taxpayers.
"There's been a trend here of taking over predominately African American districts," Darby said."If the state wants to take over an African American district, I expect and I demand that Ms. Spearman brings more resources to Williamsburg County."
Spearman said she's been considering whether to pull this emergency maneuver for three years and decided it's been long enough for students disadvantaged by the district.
"I believe that education is an issue that is best served on the local level with input from students, parents, and the school community," Spearman said."However, when a district has continuous financial and programmatic issues that put its students at risk, as State Superintendent, I am compelled to take action."
Officials say district wide student academic achievement has been at some of the lowest levels in the state for multiple years.
"Only 21% of students in grades three through eight met or exceeded state standards on the state English Language assessment," said officials with the department of education."Only 15% met or exceeded standards in Math, 19% met or exceeded in Science."
A former student of the district, George Barr, supports the changes in leadership.
He thinks it might bring a positive change for the students.
"If you got a student in school...you're waking them up every morning, getting them ready, I feel like it should be their chance to mold those students and get them to where they need to be and they're not doing that, it's just sad to me," Barr said.
According to officials, the department of education has attempted to work with the school district since the 2014-2015 school year to clear up deficiencies in federal programs.
"Williamsburg County Schools receive 74% of their $16,645 per pupil funding from the state or federal governments. 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," Spearman said."These students deserve better and we must use every dollar wisely and in ways that improve student academic achievement."
Officials say the department of education will provide hands-on technical assistance in the form of school transformation coaches, professional development, and direct program oversight.
Spearman visited Kingstree High School on Tuesday following a lawsuit which sparked rumors that Williamsburg County schools would be unable to finish out the school year.
Members of the Williamsburg County Legislative Delegation said in a news conference on March 28 that they've heard from concerned parents who feared a lawsuit would force the district to shut down.
That lawsuit was filed by an area charter school, DP Cooper Charter School, which claims the district hasn't been giving them their fair share of funding.
The suit alleges the district failed to pay DP Cooper Charter School a total of $476,784.82 for fiscal years 2016 and 2017 and states those funds should be paid immediately with interest.
The suit also claims, the Williamsburg County School Board "voted specifically to misappropriate an additional estimated $916,953 that is due DP Cooper in fiscal year 2018."
The suit states the school board does not have "lawful discretion or authority to disobey the funding mandates of the Charter School Act."
D.P. Cooper claims in the suit it does not have sufficient funds "to survive this school year, unless the Defendants provide to D.P. Cooper its lawful funding."