In April 2018, State Department of Education (DoED) Superintendent Molly Spearman declared a “state of emergency” for Williamsburg County School District (WCSD). Spearman, at that time was quoted saying, “When a district has continuous financial and programmatic issues that put its students at risk, as state superintendent, I am compelled to take action.” What followed was the firing of the superintendent and stripping the Board of Trustees of its authority.
Unbeknownst to most of us, the state will soon hand the district back to the same defiant board that did nothing but fight the DoED, though they attempted to work with the district since the 2014-15 school year to clear up deficiencies in federal programs. Turns out, it’s the law.
The DoED didn’t make a kneejerk decision. It came after many problems occurred; for example, the district lost and mismanaged approximately $650,000 in federal funds (allocated through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA) that was to be used to hire special education teachers and specialize instruction for students with disabilities. In March, 2017, the district had to pay back approximately $282,000 after it failed to spend the money. Also in 2017, the state had to tell the district how to spend another $367,000 of its IDEA money. Spearman said the district failed to use $16,645 per pupil funding from the state or federal governments efficiently and effectively.
Failure to act on these issues forced the legislative delegation to step in and pass legislation that allowed for two At-Large members to be appointed, a system that was in place at one time. Their efforts were too late as the damage was done.
Much has been done under Superintendent Dr. Rose Wilder. Special needs is now in full compliance, school buses are now equipped with security cameras and there have been infrastructure improvements. In May 2019, Spearman visited the district where she praised the progress made.
We have to remember the board was not disbanded. They were simply stripped of their authority when the state of emergency was declared. In November 2018, they held a board meeting to swear in the newly elected and re-elected members. Alfred Darby was reelected as chairman in a 5-4 vote. Now it’s a matter of time before they regain their lack of decision-making power. In the meantime, Spearman said she is pushing to have the law changed.
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