Members of the Richland County legislative delegation assembled in the South Carolina State House on Tuesday afternoon to deliver a letter to governor Henry McMaster. Their request? That his administration initiate an investigation of scandal-scarred Richland School District One (a.k.a. “Richland One“).
Years of mismanagement have produced a steady stream of complaints concerning this district to lawmakers representing the school’s students. Last week, that stream turned into a flood when district officials transferred teachers from eleven schools without prior communication to educators, parents or pupils.
S.C. senator Dick Harpootlian said the teacher reassignment may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, but that he’s heard a “constant drumbeat of constituent complaints” about the district and the “quality of what they’re getting for their tax dollars and what their kids are getting.”
“This is just the latest example of incompetence and neglect on the part of the school district,” Harpootlian said. “I mean, this is a dumpster fire … hundreds of millions of dollars being flushed down the toilet, and our kids aren’t getting educated.”
Representative Beth Bernstein said that she – along with Harpootlian and state representatives Heather Bauer and Seth Rose – would be “hand-delivering a letter to the governor asking him to request a state inspector general investigation of Richland School District One regarding potential allegations of mismanagement, misconduct and organizational dysfunction by the district’s leadership.”
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“The governor recently requested an inspector general investigation of Richland School District Two based on similar grounds,” Bernstein said.
The report from the Richland Two investigation determined the district’s school board to be “dysfunctional.” It remains to be seen, however, whether the scrutiny will result in elevated academic performance from Richland Two students – or fewer unprofessional antics from its leadership.
Representative Rose said an investigation was needed to restore public trust in Richland One.
“The biggest thing is the lack of trust from a large segment of the school district in whether or not the school district is acting in the best interests of children and spending taxpayer dollars wisely,” Rose said.
Rose helped pass the statute empowering the investigator general to examine school districts, calling this mechanism “the only means (to) instill the trust and faith that everyone should have in their government, especially the public school system.”
Rose’s rosy view that an audit would restore trust in the district wasn’t shared by senator Harpootlian, who called the investigator general’s report the “first step in determining what the problem is.”
“They’re going to get granular on us and tell us it’s misplaced priorities, it’s spending money in places that’s wasteful, they’re not focused on the quality of education for the kids, and that they’re enjoying their license plates and special status in the community, but they forgotten what they got elected to do,” he said.
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Harpootlian added that race was the “elephant in the room.”
“All our children (deserve) to get a quality education, and how they get that is making sure money is spent appropriately,” he said. “There is no color to incompetence, there is no color to misappropriation, there is no color to not doing the job. That’s my concern. But you know, these districts were created at a time when race dominated. And I think it’s time we move on from that.”
South Carolina’s history of segregation and institutionalized racism are doubtlessly contributing factors to the state’s longstanding failure to adequately educate its children – and the consequences of racially motivated educational decisions are still being felt by students (of all races) to this day.
So what happens next? Harpootlian said that if the report finds “misappropriation of funds, somebody should get indicted.”
“If it’s misallocation, which is not a crime, that’s something that needs needs to be dealt with, perhaps legislatively,” he said.
Harpootlian hinted he the will likely sponsor legislation to increase the state’s role in overseeing school boards citing “the apparent inability of the electorate to understand and react” to board misfeasance.
Richland One issued a statement(.pdf) following the press conference. According to the district, allegations that “the teacher reassignments point to a larger issue of mismanagement and misappropriation of funds by the district are simply unfounded.”
This flies in the face of claims made by state prosecutors, who say Richland One officials “stonewalled” a South Carolina law enforcement division (SLED) investigation into former district official Travis Braddy.
South Carolina’s public school systems – which continue to fall further behind the rest of the nation – nonetheless keep receiving massive increases in taxpayer funding. Per pupil funding is pushing $18,000 per child, per year, totaling nearly $14 billion annually. That’s a lot of money, and Harpootlian is correct in his contention that the electorate is incapable of policing the expenditure of those funds. This news outlet looks forward to his forthcoming proposal to install additional guardrails which might mitigate the ability of local elected officials to squander students’ futures.
Count on FITSNews to hold Richland One, and the state’s numerous other “dumpster fire” districts, to account. Stay tuned for a more detailed report once Harpootlian’s proposed legislation is publicized.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
(Via: Coleman Rojhan)
Dylan Nolan is the director of special projects at FITSNews. He graduated from the Darla Moore school of business in 2021 with an accounting degree. Dylan primarily covers education when he isn’t producing video content. Got a tip or story idea for Dylan? Email him here. You can also engage him socially @DNolan2000.
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