While Richland One students were not allowed to attend school full-time last month due to the COVID-19 pandemic, seven school district officials traveled to Hilton Head Island to attend a 300-person conference hosted by the South Carolina School Boards Association (SCSBA) at a luxury resort— all on the taxpayers’ dime.
This conference cost Richland One taxpayers a total of $7,462.15, according to financial documents recently obtained by FITSNews.
Richland One, which encompasses the greater Columbia, South Carolina area, is the worst performing of South Carolina’s 10 largest school districts (see chart below). Stakeholders in the district have accused the school board of misusing taxpayer funds while 76 percent of its students are living in poverty (see the $700 Jacketgate scandal for reference).
Richland One school board commissioners Aaron Bishop, Cheryl Harris, Angela Clyburn, Yolanda Anderson, Jaime Devine and Tamekia Myers all stayed at the beachfront Marriott Hilton Head Resort & Spa for four nights, while superintendent Craig Witherspoon stayed three nights.
The hotel cost $161.20 per night and the conference fee was $225 per attendee.
School board commissioner Beatrice King did not attend the conference.
Here are the expenses for each Richland One school board member’s SCSBA conference travel….
Aaron Bishop and Jamie Devine spent the most taxpayer money ($1,200) while attending the conference. While each board member should have spent $869 for hotel costs and conference fees, all of them spent more money while attending the four-day conference.
The organization hosts an annual conference for school board members in February at a lavish location.
Here is a full list of attendees from every school district across South Carolina
The majority of the 300 attendees were South Carolina school board members, while 31 superintendents attended.
Seventeen private attorneys also attended the sold-out conference — while Boykin & Davis LLC had more lawyers (seven) attending than any other law firm.
If you’ve followed our Richland One coverage, you might remember Boykin and Davis.
Richland One board member and SCSBA president elect Jaime Devine hired Boykin & Davis — a Columbia law firm that has frequently done legal work for the district — to represent him on his ethics complaint.
Boykin & Davis charged Richland One nearly $14,000 for 117 hours of legal work, billing the district between $70 and $150 per hour.
Devine was ultimately fined $1,000 for four violations — and taxpayers ended up with a $14,000 legal bill from Boykin & Davis.
Several education officials who have attended the conference in the past told FITSNews they felt the main purpose of the convention was to provide a meeting space between goverment contractors and South Carolina school board members.
They said some parts of the conference were helpful, but they felt it was mostly created to impress board members and contractors.
“It’s also for board members to meet with architects to discuss projects out of the public’s eye,” a source told FITSNews.
Due to COVDI-19 concerns, it looks like less vendors attended this year’s conference. Here is a list of the companies, organizations and law firms who attended the 2021 conference:
- 937 Strategy Group
- Beth Chapman and Associates
- Boykin and Davis LLC
- Burr Forman McNair
- Duff Freeman Lyon, L.L.C.
- Halligan Mahoney & Williams, P.A.
- Hood Construction Company
- McMillan Pazdan Smith Architecture
- South Carolina School Boards Insurance Trust
- South Carolina High School League
- White and Story LLC
There appears to be little accountability and big spending inside SCSBA — considering all of the employees make hefty salaries and collect bonus checks, even when South Carolina schools are in shambles.
According to its latest tax forms, SCSBA has six full-time employees whose salaries range from $105,000-$178,000 a year, and who each collect an annual bonus of more than $21,000.
In other words, the six employees at this non-profit focused on education improvement make between three to five times the amount that teachers make in South Carolina.
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.
In 2019, SCSBA spent nearly $593,319 on conferences and made just $473,172 of that money back, according to tax documents.
“In tight times, when school boards are crying poor across SC….they still throwing out $50K plus each year toward their SCSBA membership,” a former school board member said. “What was our return on investment for that?”
Parents who spoke with FITSNews have a lot of questions and comments for the board members who attended this conference.
“School district officials have made it clear by attending this event that the education and well-being of our children are not a priority to them,” a parent told FITSNews. “They’re simply pawns being used for political gamesmanship.”
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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