The state of South Carolina has taken over another poor, failing school district — its second takeover within the past year.
The Columbia State reports that South Carolina Schools Superintendent Molly Spearman has declared a "state of emergency" for the Williamsburg County district. The state education department will take over the district's daily operations, including its financial decisions and hiring.
Meanwhile, one unidentified Williamsburg school is the focus of an investigation into "funding issues" by the State Law Enforcement Division, agency spokesman Thom Berry says. Authorities did not identify the school.
Spearman has named Rose Wilder as Williamsburg County superintendent, effective immediately. Wilder, who will receive $150,000 a year, replaces Carrie Brock, who was ousted along with the district's school board.
"When a district has continuous financial and programmatic issues that put its students at risk, as state superintendent, I am compelled to take action," Spearman says.
The state's takeover — its first since taking over the Allendale County school system in 2017— comes as lawmakers wrestle with ways to pay for and fix the state's poorest, rural schools.
In 2014, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that conditions in those rural schools violated the state's constitution by failing to provide each student with a quality education. However, last summer, the state's highest court dismissed the rural schools' lawsuit against the state, declaring school and state officials had resolved the dispute.
The state has tried to work with the Williamsburg district since the 2014-15 school year, Spearman says, but that intervention has failed
Spearman cited the district's loss and mismanagement of about $650,528 in federal money allocated through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. That money primarily is used by districts to hire special education teachers and for specialized instruction for students with disabilities.
The school district's deficiencies go beyond mismanaged spending, Spearman says.
For example, Hemingway High School has a 92 percent graduation rate — well above the state average of 84 percent and higher than the national average, Spearman says. But at the same school, only 12 percent of its seniors passed the end-of-course test for U.S. history and the Constitution in 2017.
Of the district's 10 schools and career center, only two are labeled as "all clear" for academic process, the state Education Department said. Seven schools are on an "advised" accreditation status, one is "warned" and one is on "probation."
In 2017, the school district had just under 4,000 students, down from more than 6,000 students in 2000, according to its most recent financial report.
Williamsburg County has a nearly 30 percent poverty rate. Its median household income is just under $29,000.