Letter to the editor: Concerned citizens want quality education for all in Sumter


Will wonders ever cease? Reference the article on the front page of The Sumter Item titled, "School district salary study confirms Sumter lags market, needs to be more competitive."

"Consultants recommend annual, non-instructional staff pay raise by $3.4M, other changes," dated Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023. This authenticates my affirmations. Since the consolidation and creation of the Sumter School District by the Sumter County Legislative Delegation on July 11, 2011, non-teacher employees have been paid low wages. Most of these employees are highly dedicated, hardworking and loyal.

The comprehensive salary study is very revealing. SSD lacks funding to be competitive with similar school districts in South Carolina. Consequently, the quality of education provided by SSD will keep it in the bottom 25 percent of all school districts in South Carolina.

Concerned citizens want a quality education, above minimally adequate, for all students regardless of their race or economic status. However, this has not occurred since May 2012 when the SSD Board of Trustees unanimously approved a $103 million general budget for fiscal year 2012-13 with more than a $2 million inherited deficit. The Republicans, with strong influences from the business community, refused to help the SSD to overcome this deficit.

The SSD's salary study should have been conducted immediately after the consolidation of the two school districts in 201 I. The failure to do this not only negatively impacted the quality of life of SSD employees, but also the quality of education for low-income students. l am a dedicated advocate for public education. I have served on the Board of Advisers of the Sumter Career and Technology Center since 2005 and was a substitute teacher from 2007 to 2014. My knowledge of the low salaries paid SSD employees comes from my personal experience and talking to my constituents who I represent in Sumter County Council, District 7. When I ask them why they are working for these low wages, their responses are, "We have children who attend public schools, and we want to make sure that they have healthy food to eat and clean restrooms." Sumter County is blessed to have so many people who are unselfish and put the needs of others above their personal lifestyle.

The salary study also revealed that for SSD to be more competitive, they need to adjust annual non-instructional staff pay a total of $3.4 million. The funds to accomplish this adjustment were requested by the SSD in their annual millage request to Sumter County Council. For seven years (2017-2023), SCC voted against the millage requests from SSD, even when the SSD did not have the required fund balance that the law required. During this period, the SSD only received $375,000 when the South Carolina Department of Revenue said the SSD was entitled to receive $9 million under S.C. Law Act 388.

Concerned citizens are now questioning why the members of the Sumter City Council are silent on this highly controversial issue. Many underpaid SSD employees live in the City of Sumter. Many SSD students attend schools located in the city limits. Also, Priority One Schools (schools that fail to meet state standards in reading and math) are in the city limits. In 2019, Crosswell Elementary School was identified as a Priority One School. In 2023, Willow Drive Elementary and Bates Middle Schools are Priority One Schools. Priority One Schools are based on the last three years of test score data.

The poor academic performance of SSD students in the past five years (six elementary, three middle and one high school) is a direct result of the repeated NO votes by three Republicans and one Democrat to deny the SSD their annual millage request. According to the salary study, "Pay for entry-level positions is so low that the district often must hire substandard people and train them extensively for those jobs."

Sumter County has a high poverty rate (over 20 percent). One of the most effective ways to eliminate poverty is to provide a high-quality and equal education to everyone. Receiving a quality education will give all students the opportunity to obtain a job that will result in a high standard of living for themselves and their families.

Sadly, everyone doesn't treat people the way they want to be treated.

I have spoken out and written articles to The Sumter Item voicing my concerns about the lack of funding to SSD for public education. The votes against the SSD's millage requests clearly verifies systemic racism in Sumter County. The Sumter Leaders of Faith and the Concerned Clergy Sumter County Association, over 90 clergies, also acknowledge racism in Sumter County.

I want to thank the Prismatic Services Inc. and Management Advisory Group Inc. for their comprehensive salary study and recommendations to improve the quality of education provided by the SSD. Finally, I want to thank them for validating my actions and giving me the justification to continue my fight for equal education for everyone.


Sumter County Council, District 7