Sumter School District consolidation proposal to be aired

Interim superintendent expected to ask for approval to present draft to community

BY BRUCE MILLS
bruce@theitem.com
Posted 3/9/18

Sumter School District's interim superintendent is expected to ask the Board of Trustees Monday for approval to present a draft school consolidation proposal to the community in a series of public meetings. Those community meetings would occur …

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Sumter School District consolidation proposal to be aired

Interim superintendent expected to ask for approval to present draft to community

Posted

Sumter School District's interim superintendent is expected to ask the Board of Trustees Monday for approval to present a draft school consolidation proposal to the community in a series of public meetings. Those community meetings would occur during a two-week period following Monday's board meeting.

Debbie Hamm made the remarks late Wednesday in response to an inquiry from The Sumter Item after Monday's school board meeting agenda was distributed to the media Wednesday afternoon.

"On Monday, a draft proposal to consolidate some of our low-enrollment schools will be discussed by our Board of Education," Hamm said in an email. "I will be asking the trustees to approve presentation of our 'Expanding Opportunities' proposal to the community in a series of four 'strategic listening' community meetings over the next two weeks."

Hamm said the purpose for each of the community meetings will be for district staff to present important parts of the proposal and to allow for public feedback. After gathering the community's input, district staff will then prepare a final proposal for the school board.

According to Hamm, the dates and locations of the community meetings will be announced Monday at the school board meeting.

Hamm's proposal will come after the trustees were advised last year to close two low-enrollment schools from its advisory Finance Committee and a financial consultant. The board voted down the motion to close the two schools (Mayewood Middle and F.J. DeLaine Elementary) in a 3-2 split vote, with one member abstaining and another not present, on April 24.

The consultant worked with the district from January through July last year to guide it through a financial crisis that was discovered with the release of the fiscal year 2016 audit report in December 2016. That audit report 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 the district's auditor.

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

DeLaine's current enrollment is 130 students, and Mayewood's is 140 students, according to the district. Both schools are located in rural sections of Sumter County.

After implementing an emergency financial plan that included eliminating jobs, cutting stipends and supply budgets in late January last year, the school district did end fiscal 2017 on June 30, 2017, with a net income - or surplus - of $779,230 to build its total ending fund balance to $885,679.

Allan, the consultant, also identified to the district two other low-enrollment schools - Rafting Creek Elementary and Ebeneezer Middle - for potential closure to further build the district's fund balance back up.

A new state law - passed last year - calls for public school districts to have one month's operating expenses in their general fund balance. For Sumter School District's $131 million budget this fiscal year, one month's operating expenses translates to $10.9 million.

Last week, the Sumter County branch of the NAACP wrapped up its final of three community meetings in the potentially affected areas. Many community members in attendance said they believe it's not in the best interest of the students or communities for the schools to be closed.

Currently, two independent consulting firms are conducting a facilities' assessment study of all the district's schools and a population demographics study to forecast future enrollment trends at each school. The board previously unanimously approved for Hamm to pursue those studies.

Hamm has served as interim superintendent since Aug. 1.

The district's previous superintendent, Frank Baker, mutually agreed with the school board to retire in July of last year in the wake of the financial crisis.

Monday's board meeting will be held at Sumter High School's Commons Area. The meeting was originally scheduled for Shaw Heights Elementary and then was moved to Lakewood High School's Fine Arts Center before the district finalized the Sumter High location. Monday's board meeting is open to the public and begins at 6 p.m. Public participation is also listed on the agenda.