Florence mayor seeks mutual understanding regarding downtown magnet school

February 13, 2018 GMT

FLORENCE, S.C. – Florence Mayor Stephen J. Wukela said the city council has made its insistence clear that going forward members will need to have regular information on the progress of a magnet school in downtown Florence. At Monday’s city council meeting, Wukela said the council members expect him to continue with communication in a rigorous way.

In February 2016, the Florence School District One board, along with the city of Florence and Francis Marion University, entered into a cooperative effort to improve educational opportunities and continue revitalization efforts in downtown and surrounding areas. The school district agreed to renovate Poynor Adult Education Center for use as a magnet high school for performing arts and health sciences, Wukela said.

The district also agreed to renovate the McClenaghan High School building to house adult education and the district offices. The agreement included rebuilding Beck Early Childhood Center, which is under construction and funded by the district.

“The city’s portion of this agreement was to borrow $12 million from TIF funds in support of this project,” Wukela said. “And the university was to assist in the development of curricula for the magnet school.”

Wukela said on Jan. 16, 2018, the city and Francis Marion University wrote to the school board chairman, Barry Townsend, to inquire formally as to whether, and if so, when, the district planned to renovate Poynor for the magnet school.

At a school board meeting last week, the board members voted to reject a $10.8 million bid for McClenaghan’s renovations. Townsend said it exceeded the district’s budget. The Morning News reported that the board voted to authorize the administration to pursue the curriculum, planning, construction programming and design of the Poynor magnet high school project.

“On Friday afternoon, we received a letter from the board chair advising us of this decision and citing unforeseen delays and cost,” Wukela said.

But Wukela said it was not clear in the letter whether the McClenaghan element was abandoned permanently. He said it is clear that the city and university are frustrated and are having difficulty communicating.

The city council met in executive session Monday and received legal advice regarding the matter with the school district.

“As you know, there are legal implications associated with this agreement and with the associated borrowing,” Wukela said. “Given the time that’s passed thus far and the school district’s recent decision to evidently abandon a portion of the project and to begin work with the magnet school, questions necessarily rise as to how the city and our partner, the university, should proceed.”

Francis Marion University shares the city council’s concerns and commitment to the magnet school, according to the mayor. He said the city believes the school is important to the community.

“And I’ll be asking the leaders from the university and the school district, who’ve been participating in this project from its inception, to join me and meet so we can reach a mutual understanding of our mutual expectations going forward,” Wukela said.