O’Malley makes case for voting ‘yes,’ talks to county GOP about big picture

February 12, 2019 GMT

FLORENCE , S.C. — Florence One Schools Superintendent Richard O’Malley brought the case to vote “yes” on a Feb. 26 referendum to a full house Monday at the monthly meeting of the Florence County Republican Party.

O’Malley said he had come to Florence with a four-pronged approach called Florence One in 2021: One Vision, One Voice, One Future to improve the Florence One Schools.

The first prong of the improvement was communication.

He said being at the meeting of the Republican Party was another example of the district letting the community know what was happening in the school district. O’Malley said beginning on Jan. 2, when he knew for sure the referendum was going to happen, he has spoken to 52 groups in 47 days. He said he hoped the community could see the district’s improvement in this area.

The second prong of the improvement was improving student achievement.

“This is why I came here. I’ve said over and over again I did not come here to build buildings,” O’Malley said. “I did not come here to fix plumbing fixtures and things like that. I came here — I moved my family here — because I believe in Florence. I believe in its opportunity to be a great community.”

He said an aggressive campaign had been started to improve student achievement across the district.

The fourth prong was to improve employee pay.

Already, O’Malley said the district has improved pay for its custodians. The district needed, he added, to pay its teachers more and has a plan to do that. He added that the district would be one of the first in the state with a teacher’s bill of rights.

The third prong, which O’Malley came back to, was to make sure the district’s facilities were secure, great facilities.

O’Malley said the district was using a pay-as-you-go plan to build new schools, but he added that the market had changed, and a new approach was needed.

“They built five schools in six years, and that was something that everyone enjoyed, because it didn’t raise taxes and schools were being built,” O’Malley said. “But there’s also another part of that. In order to build those schools, it took a little bit more money to pay for those, and that came out of the operational budget.”

By building the six schools, O’Malley said, the district was unable to provide maintenance to other facilities, provide textbooks and pay its employees like it should.

“We have 21 schools, so we had quite a few schools that weren’t receiving maintenance or were just receiving the annual things that we do,” O’Malley continued. “And that’s what put us at this point.”

As the “CEO” of the district, O’Malley said the district had outlined the only plan it could to catch up and even build for the future.

In response to a question from the audience, O’Malley said that the district hadn’t placed the referendum on the ballot in November because it was still working on its plan for the schools to be built. Also, he added, state election laws would have made the timing in November very difficult.

He also added that if South Carolina can vote in a presidential primary in February, the state should be able to vote on the referendum.

The funds from the 25-year bonds are to be used to construct a new Southside Middle School, a new Williams Middle School, a new Savannah Grove Elementary School, a new elementary school that will consolidate Timrod and Wallace Gregg elementary schools, and security upgrades, additions, renovations, and athletic upgrades at each of the three high schools in Florence One Schools. The three high schools are South Florence, West Florence and Wilson.

O’Malley said the two middle schools would take priority, as building the two middle schools would allow the district to move sixth grade to the middle schools and get rid of the district’s mobile classrooms at the middle and elementary level. He added that the athletic facilities would come last. All of the improvements, he said, had to be done within five years as part of the referendum.

O’Malley became the superintendent of Florence One Schools on Aug. 3, 2018. He was hired by the district’s board of trustees on May 4. Prior to coming to Florence, O’Malley was the superintendent of Edison Public Schools in New Jersey. He also has served as the superintendent in Aberdeen, New Jersey, and Mountainside, New Jersey.