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Clarendon School Districts 1 and 3 are planning to consolidate.
The move, which will officially happen in about 1.5 years with the start of the 2021-22 school year, was made amid a current and future state funding environment that does not allow for counties, especially in South Carolina's rural areas, to have multiple school districts and at a time when money is now on the table to merge.
According to state Sen. Kevin Johnson, D-Manning, and other officials who spoke with The Sumter Item on Monday, the situation has to do with Senate Bill 203, which the General Assembly did not pass this year. It would have required school districts in many of the state's poorest counties with less than 1,500 students to consolidate with another district in the same county.
Eight districts in the state, including Summerton-based Clarendon 1 and Turbeville-based Clarendon 3, met those criteria.
Two districts in Bamberg, Barnwell and Hampton counties also met the criteria, according to Ryan Brown, spokesman for the Department of Education.
While the measure did not become law, the General Assembly did pass a measure to allocate $50 million to the state Department of Education's budget as an incentive for those districts to move forward with consolidation.
This fall, all eight districts said they would.
According to Johnson, the leadership in both Clarendon 1 and 3 determined the financial incentives were the best way to improve the quality of education in their respective communities and came to him.
"I met with both school boards several times," Johnson said, "and I think what both districts see is a chance to really improve education, and it's really all about the students. There are some things right now that other school districts can offer to their students that we can't offer in Clarendon 1 and 3 because we don't have the tax base. So, we are trying to keep the focus on what's best for the students."
Johnson emphasized that Clarendon School District 2, based in Manning, will not be included in the upcoming consolidation.
With about 2,750 students and seven schools, Clarendon 2 is well above the 1,500-student threshold.
Johnson said he does foresee a day when Clarendon will only have one public school district, based on everything he sees and hears from the governor and General Assembly. But, he said, he doesn't feel it's appropriate to force a consolidation on a district when it's not ready.
Consolidation to involve mostly administration
Johnson said the merger of the two districts will be mostly felt on the administrative side, and there are no talks of closing any schools.
"There will be one superintendent, one of everything," Johnson said. "One bus supervisor, for example, one food-service manager, because a lot of the costs in these small districts is administration anyway. A lot of those particulars will have to be worked out, but there will be one school board. We are working all those things into the plan now."
The state Department of Education has advised both Clarendon districts to submit their finalized consolidation plan before the upcoming holiday break. Both districts' final day before the Christmas break is Dec. 19.
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