FITSNews recently obtained financial documents that could explain why Rep. Christopher Hart would want to defend Richland One leaders.
Richland One paid Hart $48,250 for bond work from 2018 through 2019, according to financial documents. Hart did not disclose this fact when discussing Richland One at the State House.
Hart’s law firm does not appear to specialize in bond work or anything close to it. According to chrishartlaw.com, his law firm specializes in wrongful death and personal injury cases. There is no mention of anything relative to bond work.
Hart has also contributed financially to both Richland One school board member Jamie Devine and his wife Tameika Issac Devine, who is running for Columbia Mayor. He donated $1,000 to Jamie Devine’s campaign on election day in 2020 and he contributed $1,000 to Isaac Devine’s Columbia city council campaign in 2017.
This isn’t the first time Richland One’s high-dollar bond contracts have been scrutinized. The Richland One school board has been accused many times of awarding major contracts to businesses connected to board members.
Issac Devine’s law firm, Jabber & Issac, has also been contracted by Richland One to do legal bond work, the Post and Courier first reported. Those contracts with the school district “began just months after Jamie Devine first took his seat on the seven-member school board in 2008,” the Post and Courier reported.
Jabber & Issac, along with Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein, has received more than $800,000 from Richland One bond contracts in the last decade, the State Newspaper reported.
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Like Chris Hart’s law firm, Issac Devine does not specialize in bond work.
Handling public bonds is complicated legal work typically done by attorneys who specialize in the field, the Post and Courier reported.
Last June, former board member Jonathan Milling questioned other commissioners on the district’s choice in attorneys for these huge contracts.
The issue was tabled last summer and it hasn’t been brought up since (to our knowledge).
While debating a bill that would give the state more power to take over failing school districts, Columbia, South Carolina Rep. Chris Hart implied at the statehouse that Richland One critics are racist.
“If you listen to the folks who criticize Richland One, they’re a failing school district because the demographics have changed,” he said. “That school district is no longer controlled by the people who used to control it 20-30 years ago. The skin color has changed on the school board.”
He said that when comments are made about Richland One being a failing school district, “it has nothing to do with test scores.”
Richland One‘s third grade ELA scores, eighth grade math scores, college ready scores, and career ready scores are the lowest among the state’s 10 largest districts and below South Carolina’s average (see below).
Is Hart OK with these test scores?
Hart said that Richland Two has a similar issue with racist critics who claim the school district is failing because they, too, have a black superintendent.
However, when you look at the test scores between the districts, Richland Two is superior across the board (see chart below).
The problem here is much bigger than a public official receiving $48,000 for legal work that appears to be outside of his specialty and failing to disclose that financial connection when he advocated for that district on the statehouse floor.
It’s just another example of what many Richland One stakeholders see as misusing taxpayer funds. Other examples include:
- $7,400 spent on beach resort conference for school board members
- $700 spent on jackets for seven school board members
- $20,000 spent on a red-carpet event
- $50,000 at Chick-Fil-A in one year
- $4,800 at Hall’s Restaurant in one year
- $14,000 on Jamie Devine’s ethics violations
Keep in mind, this is a district with 76 percent of students living in poverty.
These expenses add up — and convince taxpayers that the board is not looking out for the district’s best interest.
If Hart did his research on Richland One, he would see that Richland One is failing taxpayers, employees and students.
Richland One is currently suffering one of the worst teacher shortages in the state. Enrollment numbers are declining — the district has lost more than 1,500 students in the last year.
Richland One ranks in the top 6 school districts in the state for spending per pupil. In the 2020-2021 school year, it spent $15,009 per pupil — which is significantly higher than the state’s average at $9,497 (see chart below).
Richland One has a millage rate that is 1.8 times higher than Charleston’s rate and 1.5 times higher than Greenville’s rate.
At FITSNews, we believe that Richland One students and taxpayers deserve better. We believe that Columbia deserves better. We believe that the spending at Richland One deserves scrutiny.
FITSNews will continue to report on the many issues facing the Richland One School District. Stay tuned.
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