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Secretive South Carolina School Shutdown Catches Parents, Students Off Guard

Charter school closure decided behind closed doors … leaving parents scrambling to find a new school for their children.

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Last Friday afternoon, parents of students attending the Midlands Arts Conservatory in downtown Columbia, South Carolina received a letter from school leaders warning them that the charter school was going to “deliberately phase down” its operations.

“While this decision was difficult, we felt now was the most appropriate time as we are in between school years and have funding to minimize financial hardship on our faculty/staff while providing more time for our families to find a new school during the 2023-2024 school year,” the letter stated.

The Midlands Arts Conservatory is (or was) one of thirty-eight public charter schools in the Palmetto State operating under the auspices of the S.C. Charter School District (SCCSD) – which serves approximately 17,000 students statewide. The school itself served an estimated 420 students in grades six through eleven, providing them with a “strong core” of academic courses as well as specialized instruction in “dance, music (strings), theatre, or visual arts.”

The school was founded in 2018 for sixth and seventh graders but had expanded in succeeding years to include grades 8-11. It had hoped to add a senior class to its ranks in 2024.

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“Over the past several months, the board of directors repeatedly faced making difficult decisions,” the letter stated. “Over the years, one-time grants, COVID monies, and occasional sponsors helped subsidize the cost of operating a school model that needs to be adequately funded by the per-pupil funding formula. Now that most of this one-time funding has disappeared, we, as the board of directors, only have the funds to keep a balanced budget if we eliminate administrative and teaching staff essential to operating the arts-infused model of the (school).”

The letter shocked parents – who had no idea the school was facing financial hardship or that a possible “phaseout” was imminent. Less than two months ago, in fact, Midlands Arts Conservatory posted hiring notices on its Facebook page for multiple positions – seemingly indicating its positive financial position.

Earlier this week, the hammer officially fell as this “phase down” was revealed to be a shutdown – with the school closing its doors effective June 30, 2023. The decision to close the school permanently was reached during an “emergency board meeting” last Thursday (June 8, 2023).

Most of that meeting was held behind closed doors – in so-called “executive session” – forcing parents and students to take school leaders at their word as to what really happened.

“This decision was based on several factors that have significantly impacted the viability and sustainability of our education institution,” a statement from the school’s principal, Pasquail Bates noted. “Despite our school’s best efforts to offer suggestions to overcome the challenges, we were unable to agree on a viable solution that would ensure the long-term success of MAC.”

(Click to View)

Pasquail Bates (Twitter)

“We understand that this news may come as a shock to many of you, and we sincerely apologize for any inconvenience or distress it may cause,” Bates continued. “We truly empathize with you all, as our entire MAC family shares in the same shock and displacement.”

Parents were not happy with the decision, its timing – or the lack of communication from the school.

“So my child has no school for the fall?” parent Heather Lovely wrote on the school’s Facebook page.

“The lack of communication is disappointing – I haven’t seen any official announcements yet after already paying the re-enrollment fee and just receiving a 2023-2024 school calendar in the mail,” parent Maleah Anderson noted.

“It is sad that this decision was made AFTER all the magnet choice applications closed for the local school districts,” parent Allison R. Bastos added. “If families had know sooner they could have applied to arts programs in their home districts.”

Students were also disappointed.

“It’s great that you guys have absolutely no plan on telling the parents that the school closed down, or that you more than likely won’t be compensating for the people that already re-enrolled their children, such as my parents,” student Talen Price wrote on Facebook.

My news outlet has long lamented the lack of educational freedom in South Carolina – a state in which the top-down, one-size-fits-all, bloated government-run system continues to produce inferior results at an ever-escalating cost to taxpayers. Per pupil funding on South Carolina’s failed government-run system is pushing $18,000 per child, per year … totaling nearly $14 billion annually. And that’s not counting carry-forward balances hoarded by districts, federal “stimulus” funding or proceeds from local bond referendums.

Charter schools run by the state have provided some choice, but not enough.

Whatever you feel about the education debate in South Carolina, one thing is clear: These parents and students deserved better than this – and they deserve answers as to what really happened to their school.

Look for this news outlet to ramp up our focus on South Carolina’s government-run school system – including its charter school district – in the weeks and months to come.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Will Folks (Brett Flashnick)

Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children.

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1 comment

Stone Williams June 17, 2023 at 9:03 am

$18K per kid per year isn’t that much. A good private school might charge $50K *and* hit parents up for donations.

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