Lawmaker: Upstate school district consolidation bill on hold as - FOX Carolina 21

Lawmaker: Upstate school district consolidation bill on hold as public forums planned

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LAURENS, SC (FOX Carolina) -

Two bills aimed at major changes in Laurens County's two school districts that passed the House have drawn concern from the community.

Representative Mike Pitts introduced two parallel bills on Wednesday that would impact Laurens County School Districts 55 and 56.

In one bill, Pitts wants to consolidate the two school districts into one administration. No schools would be impacted by this move. He said the consolidation would be more efficient, level the taxation field and save money by only having one administrative office staff.

Pitts said that both Orangeburg County and Sumter County schools have consolidated their districts. His bill was based on the consolidation for those counties.

The State Education Superintendent is in favor of consolidation, he said. The senator from Laurens County was also in favor of consolidation when Pitts was drafting the bill, he said.

On Tuesday, Pitts said in order to hear from residents about the bill, the process on it has been stopped until the Laurens County Legislative Delegation can hold three open forums. Below is the full statement:

"After careful consideration and hearing from our constituents, the need for more information and a better understanding, it is the unified consensus of the Laurens County Legislative Delegation to hold the process on the Consolidation Bill at this point. At least three open forums will be held in Laurens County by the Delegation, led by Delegation Chairman Mike Pitts and meetings with both school boards and school administrators will take place after adjournment of the current legislative session and January 2019. No further action will be taken on this issue in any form until that point."

In the second bill, Pitts is requesting that the district(s) get their budgets together and present them to Laurens County Council for review. He said, by having county council sign off on school board budgets, it puts all of the people dealing with taxes on the same page.

Laurens County School District 55 Board members responded to the bill.

Board Chair, Susan Calhoun-Ware, indicated that legislative actions are a concern, but they should not distract the board from their focus on testing during this critical time of the school year. Board Vice-Chair, Terri Martin, also said the focus should be on the upcoming tests.

“While the timing and communication of the initiative is unfortunate, we must continue to concentrate on the safety, security, and advancement of our students and our schools.” The Board Vice-Chair, Terri Martin, stated, “Our current areas of concern are the tests our students will be taking over the next few weeks and our search for the best and the brightest teachers we can find in this critical era of teacher shortages.”

As a district, there is a concern about the impact this news is having on existing and potential staff members. “We will continue to support and encourage our teachers and make sure they know we are doing everything we can to ensure a bright future for everyone associated with LCSD 55,” said Calhoun-Ware.  “Right now, we want to have a strong finish to the year. We do not want the Class of 2018 to be overshadowed by politics or uncertainty. We have a great deal to celebrate and that is where our attention will be directed in the weeks ahead,” added Martin.

Chairman of the Laurens County School District 56 Board of Trustees, Jim Barton, released the following statement on the proposal:

It is of great concern that this legislation was proposed without any warning or discussion in the community.  This bill has caused a lot of distraction at a time that we are fully engaged in the activities and challenges that culminate every school year, and unfortunately, none of us in Laurens 56 even knows the intent of the consolidation.

The community is the strength of any school system.  Every community has special challenges, different priorities, and unique solutions.

Significantly, the citizens of Clinton and Laurens are actively involved and supportive of their schools and deserve every opportunity to continue to do so—without being removed further away physically and procedurally—from matters affecting their children.

Over the course of the last 24 hours, the School Board and Dr. O’Shields have been very active in understanding and intervening in this legislative process as much as we can having had no notice about the bill being introduced.  Our school system is in close communication and unified with Laurens District 55 in voicing concerns.

We would appreciate your input and involvement in the process.  More information is available online or at the District website. A list of Laurens County Legislators may also be found there for your convenience in the event that you would like to become directly involved in this situation.

In any case, District 56 is going to remain resolute in its efforts to continue the planning, programming, teaching, testing, building, and nurturing of our students.

Here is House Bill 5318 in full:

H 5317 General Bill, By Pitts
Summary: Laurens County School Districts 55 and 56
    A BILL TO REVOKE THE FISCAL AUTONOMY OF LAURENS COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICTS 55 AND 56, AND TO REVISE THE MANNER IN WHICH THE ANNUAL BUDGETS FOR LAURENS COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICTS 55 AND 56 ARE PREPARED AND APPROVED.

H. 5317

Introduced by Rep. Pitts

L. Printed 4/25/18--H.

Read the first time April 25, 2018.

            

A BILL

TO REVOKE THE FISCAL AUTONOMY OF LAURENS COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICTS 55 AND 56, AND TO REVISE THE MANNER IN WHICH THE ANNUAL BUDGETS FOR LAURENS COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICTS 55 AND 56 ARE PREPARED AND APPROVED.

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of South Carolina:

SECTION    1.    (A)    Notwithstanding another provision of law, beginning with the budget for the 2018-2019 school year, the budgets for Laurens County School Districts 55 and 56 must be determined in the following manner:

(1)    The board of trustees of each district shall initially prepare the budget after consultation with the various school officials of the county. Consideration must be given to the overall needs of the district school system and the sources of revenue available, including federal, state, and local revenue to fund the budget. The board of trustees of each district shall hold a public hearing before submitting its budget to the county governing body for approval. The notices of the public hearing must be placed in a newspaper of general circulation in the district at least fifteen days before the public hearing.

(2)    Each district's board of trustees must submit its respective proposed budget to the governing body of Laurens County for approval by April first, and the governing body may increase or decrease the budget of either district as it deems necessary and proper.

(3)    In a year in which either school district board of trustees determines that greater local financial assessment is essential and that the tax millage of the district should be increased in order to implement the budget, the appropriate board of trustees first must notify the governing body of Laurens County of the amount required and the tax levy necessary to realize that amount, and the governing body, if it approves, shall provide for the necessary tax levy.

(4)    The board of trustees of each school district shall establish in its bookkeeping system entries for each item in the budget and shall maintain its records in a manner to reflect accurately the amounts appropriated, the amounts drawn, and the balance remaining in each account. Expenditures for budgeted items may not exceed the amount appropriated, and expenditures for unbudgeted items may not be made unless approved in writing by a majority of the appropriate school district board of trustees.

(B)    For purposes of determining the previous year's millage, the millage levy for each district must be determined and calculated by the Department of Revenue based on the 2017 levy of Laurens County School Districts 55 and 56 and the value of a mill in each district. Beginning in 2018, the amount levied by way of millage is subject to millage limitations provided by general law and local law, and any increase over the 2017 millage as computed above must be approved by the governing body of Laurens County.

SECTION    2.    Any provision of a local act pertaining to a school district of Laurens County inconsistent with the provisions of this act is repealed as of July 1, 2018, because the General Assembly's intent is to have this act and the general law constitute the only provisions of law governing the preparation and approval of the annual budgets for Laurens County School Districts 55 and 56.

SECTION    3.    This act takes effect upon approval by the Governor.

H 5318 General Bill, By Pitts
Summary: Laurens County School Districts
    A BILL TO PROVIDE THAT LAURENS COUNTY ON JULY 1, 2021, SHALL CONSIST OF ONE SCHOOL DISTRICT TO BE KNOWN AS THE LAURENS COUNTY CONSOLIDATED SCHOOL DISTRICT AND TO ABOLISH THE EXISTING SCHOOL DISTRICTS IN LAURENS COUNTY; TO PROVIDE THAT THE CONSOLIDATED SCHOOL DISTRICT BE GOVERNED BY A BOARD OF TRUSTEES ELECTED IN NONPARTISAN ELECTIONS ON SPECIFIED DATES; TO PROVIDE FOR THE COMPOSITION AND MANNER OF ELECTION OF THE BOARD; TO PROVIDE A SUPERINTENDENT FOR THE DISTRICT TO BE APPOINTED BY THE BOARD; TO PROVIDE FOR THE POWERS AND DUTIES OF THE BOARD AND SUPERINTENDENT; TO PROVIDE FOR THE MANNER IN WHICH SCHOOL BUDGETS MUST BE PRESENTED AND THE SCHOOL TAX MILLAGE BE IMPOSED AND CALCULATED; TO PROVIDE FOR THE TRANSFER OF THE ASSETS AND LIABILITIES OF THE TWO PRESENT SCHOOL DISTRICTS TO THE CONSOLIDATED SCHOOL DISTRICT WITH CERTAIN EXCEPTIONS; TO PROVIDE THE MANNER IN WHICH THE CONSTITUTIONAL DEBT LIMITATION OF THE CONSOLIDATED SCHOOL DISTRICT FOR THE ISSUANCE OF A GENERAL OBLIGATION BOND MUST BE DETERMINED; AND TO PROVIDE FOR A SIX-MEMBER TRANSITION TEAM TO BE APPOINTED BY THE BOARDS OF DISTRICT TWO AND DISTRICT SEVENTEEN TO MAKE RECOMMENDATIONS CONCERNING ATTENDANCE ZONES AND OTHER MATTERS.

FOX Carolina has reached out to LCSD 56 for response.

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