Richland One school board member Jamie Devine played a key role in several controversies in 2020.
At the beginning of the year, he fiercely defended the school board spending $700 jackets for themselves — sparking the “Jacketgate Scandal,” which ultimately shed light on excessive spending at the large Midlands school district in Columbia, South Carolina.
In July, he made a statement many Richland One stakeholders considered as threat during a discussion on social justice.
“There is going to be some people who will get caught in the crossfire and when they do, and all I can tell you, is you better hold on,” Devine said in the public meeting.
Most recently, Devine demanded that a South Carolina legislator publicly apologize for questioning the scandal-scarred school district’s leadership, the Post and Courier reported.
Despite all that controversy, Devine not only won re-election in November, but was recently voted as the president-elect of the South Carolina School Boards Association (SCSBA), the Journal Scene reported.
What exactly is the SCSBA?
It’s a non-profit “advocating for quality public education while ensuring excellence in school board performance through training and service.”
There is big money involved in SCSBA — the organization brought in a total annual revenue of more than $5.8 million, with expenses of more than $6 million in 2019, according to financial records. The organization’s net assets were more than $5.7 million in 2019.
Where does all that money come from? What do they do with it?
According to their tax documents, a big hunk of SCSBA’s income comes from membership dues — over $1.5 million. In total, SCSBA made a total of $3.92 million on “SC admin fees.”
How much are they charging for membership dues, you ask?
We looked at finances from a few school districts across South Carolina. In Aiken County, taxpayers paid more than $47,000 for membership dues alone. Richland Two taxpayers were billed $50,4000 for SCSBA membership this year.
Like we said — big money.
In 2019, SCSBA devoted 81.8% of its total expenses to program services.
According to its tax forms, SCSBA has six full-time employees who each make hefty six-figure salaries and collected more than $21,000 in bonuses in 2019.
In 2019, SCSBA spent $178,298 on “compensation of current officers, directors, trustees, and key employees” in addition to the salaries and bonuses above. Also, they spent an additional $3 million on “other salaries and wages,” according to tax documents.
Oh, and SCSBA’s employees get taxpayer-funded job benefits, even though they’re not a government entity, according to The Nerve’s reporting.
So what do they do exactly?
SCSBA provides legislative representation, legal support, insurance services, and leadership development, according to its website.
One SCSBA staff member is a registered lobbyist, according to tax forms.
According to a 2019 story in the State newspaper, SCSBA conferences “serve as a consistent meeting place and a conduit through which the gifts can be distributed” between board members and lobbyist.
These taxpayer-funded conferences are held in lavish hotels in the state’s three largest tourist destinations — Hilton Head, Charleston, and Myrtle Beach.
Next year’s SCSBA conference “Leading Through Change” will be held at the Hilton Head Marriott beachfront destination.
In 2019, SCSBA spent nearly $593,319 on conferences and made just $473,172 of that money back, according to tax documents.
All of this big money being spent for what results?
“The mission of the SCSBA is to be the leading voice advocating for quality public education while ensuring excellence in school board performance through training and service,” SCSBA officials said on tax forms.
So who ensures that they are doing their jobs? Why are they collecting bonuses when South Carolina has one of the worst education systems in the United States.
And “excellence in school board performance”? What about this behavior from their elected leader? Is that excellence?
SCSBA In COVID-19 Crisis
Earlier this year, SCSBA made some controversial recommendations during the COVID-19 crisis.
They approved a resolution that essentially took power away from board members during the COVID-19 pandemic. The emergency resolution that gives the superintendent and the board chairperson the ability to waive or suspend “provisions of existing policies, administrative procedures, and other rules” related to Gov. Henry McMaster’s coronavirus executive orders was passed by several school districts in South Carolina. D
During the coronavirus crisis, the SCSBA also recommended that school districts not accept FOIA requests, saying FOIA requests are “certainly not essential and should not be a priority.”
In the same email telling school boards not to accept FOIA requests, the SCSBA advised that districts temporarily eliminate public comment during the state of emergency.
“Remember, the board is not required by law to hold a public comment period during board meetings, with the exception of public hearings, which would include budget hearings,” SCSBA officials said in an email.
We will be keeping a close eye on the SCSBA and Richland One in 2021. Stay tuned….
ABOUT THE AUTHOR..
Mandy Matney is the news director at FITSNews. She’s an investigative journalist from Kansas who has worked for newspapers in Missouri, Illinois, and South Carolina before making the switch to FITS. She currently lives on Hilton Head Island where she enjoys beach life. Mandy also hosts the Murdaugh Murders podcast. Want to contact Mandy? Send your tips to [email protected].
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