Shaw commander tells governor parents concerned about Sumter School District

BY KAYLA ROBINS
kayla@theitem.com
Posted 4/14/19

When any family moves or is relocated, a top factor in where they buy or rent a home is the school and school system to which their children will attend.

That decision has weighed heavily on military families being assigned to Shaw Air Force …

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Shaw commander tells governor parents concerned about Sumter School District

Posted

When any family moves or is relocated, a top factor in where they buy or rent a home is the school and school system to which their children will attend.

That decision has weighed heavily on military families being assigned to Shaw Air Force Base, according to the 20th Fighter Wing's commander, Col. Derek O'Malley. He attended the South Carolina Military Base Task Force's annual Commanders Brief to the Governor meeting on Monday, where, among five topics he addressed, the quality of a Sumter School District education came up.

"While airmen and soldiers from Shaw Air Force Base are doing the very important work of fighting America's wars, it's my job to guarantee they and their families are taken care of," O'Malley said. "It's my responsibility to ensure they don't have to spend their time worrying about the resources they need to not only live but thrive at Shaw Air Force Base."

He told Gov. Henry McMaster during his time to speak that leaders at Shaw and military parents whose children attend school in Sumter School District are "concerned by the current financial state within the district."

The state Board of Education denied an appeal by the district/school board on Tuesday that challenged state Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman's declaration of a fiscal emergency in Sumter School District. The declaration was based on the board's decision to reopen Mayewood Middle School in the fall after a financial recovery plan submitted last year accounted for it being closed, which it had been for this school year.

The district was required to submit a financial recovery plan to the state Department of Education last summer because it was under a fiscal caution due to $6.2 million in overspending in fiscal year 2016, draining the general fund balance to $106,449.

According to a 2-year-old state law, the district must have one month's operating expenditures in its fund balance by June 30, 2020, which, currently, is between $10 million to $12 million.

To help save money, the board voted to close Mayewood and F.J. DeLaine Elementary School, two low-enrollment schools that at the time equaled about 1.5% of the total district enrollment.

After five of nine school board members turned over in November's midterm election, the new board voted to reopen the middle school in February, going against its previously submitted plan and prompting Spearman's emergency declaration. The board appealed that declaration, which was denied Tuesday.

"We've received continual feedback from those assigned to Shaw that the school district is one of their greatest concerns when they receive an assignment here," O'Malley said.

He said the average military child transitions six to 10 times during the course of his or her parent's career. His own son, a senior at Sumter High School, has moved 12 times.

"With every move, parents seek the best educational opportunities for their children and put significant effort into choosing the right fit for their child and personal situation. It has become increasingly difficult to reassure families arriving at Shaw that the Sumter School District can provide a sound education for their children," he said. "For that reason, many families assigned to Shaw make the decision to live outside of Sumter County and commute up to an hour one way for the benefit of their children's education."

O'Malley also asked the state to allow preferential treatment in its open enrollment process to children of active-duty personnel.

"At this time, the Sumter School District's open enrollment window lasts just a month, and the process is not only cumbersome, but also not well publicized," he said, "which limits the opportunity for those military parents who have chosen to send their children to schools within the Sumter School District to make the best educational choice for their family."