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Critic, Florence School District One at odds over transparency with money

March 22, 2018 GMT

FLORENCE, S.C. – James Williams, community activist and president of LifeLine Plus, says Florence School District One displays a lack of transparency with money, but the district says it follows proper spending procedures.

Williams held a press conference outside the school district office on Wednesday afternoon.

“There’s little to no transparency which in and of itself oftentimes fosters corruption at various levels because when you’re talking about an organization that administrates hundreds of millions of dollars and when we can’t trust those people who we have put in charge to manage our funds, then that’s a problem,” Williams said.

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Williams submitted an open records request to the district for how the district is spending its innovation funds. At the July 23, 2015, board meeting, the district approved $1 million to fund research and innovative educational practices.

Williams’ open records request was fulfilled. Williams said there is a discrepancy in how the innovation funds are allocated.

During the press conference, Williams used the middle schools as an example. Williams Middle School has received $992, Southside Middle School has received $5,837 and Sneed Middle School has received $72,937.

District One provided the Morning News with the report that Williams referenced.

“Our questions relate to what represents the differences that determine how one school gets so little funding while others get so much when all of our children deserve innovation and technology,” Williams said.

District One released a statement from the Office of the Superintendent in response to questions from the press conference.

The statement said that a design team consisting of teachers, building level administrators, parents, students and central office staff were involved in the process of finding innovative programs for schools. Then, funding was allocated to schools on an application basis.

“After programs were vetted, schools were allowed to apply for the programs they were interested in implementing in their schools,” the statement said. “A subcommittee of the overall design team scored the applications and they were awarded to various schools that submitted the best application. There were some schools that didn’t apply for a program at all. Therefore, initially they didn’t receive a program.”

Eighteen schools currently have or are establishing programs from the innovation funds. Programs include one-to-one technology initiatives, a STEM/STEAM program and an early college program.

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“After the initial awarding of the programs, schools that didn’t receive a program were approached about what they would like to implement,” the district’s statement said. “Additional schools received funding for programs at their request if funds were available.”

The district’s meeting notes for the July 23, 2015, meeting state that the $1 million is “any monies that are saved through efficiencies in operations that the superintendent has initiated and is continuing to make within our district.”

The district said that there is funding available to sustain each program for at least three years, and each program’s effectiveness will be determined.