Sumter school board approves consultants for population, facilities studies

Reports could lead to potential school closures

BY BRUCE MILLS
bruce@theitem.com
Posted 2/13/18

Two independent consultants were approved Monday to conduct studies that could impact the future of smaller, low-enrollment schools in the district.

After returning from executive session at its …

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Sumter school board approves consultants for population, facilities studies

Reports could lead to potential school closures

Posted

Two independent consultants were approved Monday to conduct studies that could impact the future of smaller, low-enrollment schools in the district.

After returning from executive session at its regular monthly meeting Monday, the Sumter School District's Board of Trustees approved Interim Superintendent Debbie Hamm's recommendations for who will conduct a county population demographics study and a facilities assessment study.

The population study, which was approved for Templeton Demographics of Southlake, Texas, will include short-term and long-term enrollment projections in the district's schools. According to its website, Templeton has been conducting demographic and planning studies for school districts since 2002. The facilities assessment study of all the district's schools will be conducted by Cumming Corp., a national consulting firm with operations in 24 states, including South Carolina.

The two studies have been discussed by the board and superintendent for a few months. After a board Facilities Committee was formed and met on Oct. 20, the full board approved for Hamm to move forward with formally seeking proposers for the two studies at its Nov. 13 meeting.

According to the Facility Committee, chaired by at-large board member William Byrd, both studies will provide a comprehensive look at existing schools' physical assets and needs and future facility utilization, which could factor into closing certain smaller, low-enrollment schools in the district.

Potentially closing low-enrollment schools has been a topic of the board for more than a year now, especially after the revelation of a financial budget crisis in December 2016 by district auditor Robin Poston.

The fiscal year 2016 audit report, released that month, revealed the district overspent by $6.2 million that year and had an ending general fund balance on June 30, 2016 of $106,449 - a critically low level, according to Poston. The district ended fiscal 2017 on an upward trend, however, with net income of $779,230 for an ending general fund balance on June 30, 2017 of $885,679.

That fund balance is still relatively low, according to the district's new chief financial officer and new state Department of Education regulations on districts' required fund balances to have on hand.

Last year, before the district's new CFO came on staff, an outside financial consultant guided the district through its financial difficulties. In preparing this year's budget, the consultant recommended closing two low-enrollment schools at the end of last school year (F.J. DeLaine Elementary and Mayewood Middle schools) and two more at the end of this school year to build the district's fund balance back up.

The consultant, Scott Allan, projected closing the two schools last year would provide $3.6 million in cost savings this fiscal year to add to the general fund. He said at the time cost savings would mostly come in the areas of utility costs and insurance for the facilities.

In late April, the board voted down the motion in a 4-2 split vote to close the two schools.