The County School District in Kershaw is in trouble.
The district, once ranked “good” by the Education Oversight (EOC) in terms of absolute performance, has dropped to “average.” A major factor in the sinking score has been an alarming 10 percent spike in high school dropouts since 2003.
SAT scores are down too, bad news for parents who want their children to attend college. In 2008 the average score dropped 11 points to 1003 – or 14 points under the US national average. The 1003 average score in Kershaw is a shocking 182 points below the average incoming freshman at USC. Just as alarming, the district reports that a mere 15 percent of students are eligible for LIFE scholarships to attend college in-state, which is less than half the rate of similar public school districts in South Carolina.
Student performance is not the only problem in Kershaw School District. There are alarming money issues too.
While the district spends over $9,700 per child the SC Budget and Control Board reports that a mere 47 cents per dollar is reaching the classroom in the form of instructional spending. In 2007 that was just $49 million from a total district budget exceeding $105 million. Administrative spending jumped 10 percent in one year from 2006 to 2007.
Some in Kershaw point to the District’s new Superintendent Frank Morgan (pictured above).
Morgan arrived in Kershaw, a 20-school, 10,200-student district, from a district less than 1/4 that size in Goochland County Virginia. Morgan’s base salary is $141,000 – plus a $9,000 car allowance and district benefits such as health insurance, vacation time and retirement – bringing his annual salary package close to $165,000.00. By comparison, the median family income in Kershaw County is just $44,836.00.
While Morgan has worked aggressively to advertise his own accomplishments (even finding time to start his own blog and podcast), some worried parents in Kershaw point out that the district now has three schools with multi-year “D” and “F” performance ratings (Pine Tree, Midway and Jackson Elementary Schools) and only seven schools met their Federal AYP performance targets this school year. Morgan’s handling of the very-public racial imbalances and resource inequity in the district’s mismanaged open-enrollment program is also a sore spot for many parents.
Others think the School Board is to blame.
Working with the County Council in April, the School Board actually raised taxes to fund a 12 percent district wide salary hike just as the county and state’s economy began to feel the effects of the international budget crunch. Still, four months later, board members claimed in the Chronicle Independent (C.I.) that they had “planned ahead for a budget cut based on recommendations from administrators.”
In the same meeting that Board Members finalized the small business tax hikes and called for “belt tightening” they approved themselves district staffers a new 403(b) retirement document plan (C.I. 10/1)
Fiscal mis-management is just one point of contention. Kershaw’s local media has also brought to light very troubling accusations of nepotism after a school board member’s son was hired by the district at a $90,000 salary (C.I. 10/10). Outraged parents worry that the money being used to pay large bureaucratic salaries has been siphoned from funds set aside for new schools – a concern publicly echoed by Buster Beckham, a former county and state School Board member. Despite the heightened media attention, some sitting school board members have still balked at instituting any policies that would prevent this type of nepotism in the future (C.I. 9/22). The board has similarly rejected proposals to forbid the district and its employees from engaging in political activities using school resources (C.I. 9/19).
While parents and community members oscillate between frustration with Morgan and anger at the Board, the situation in the classroom is not improving.
In fact, frustration with school board nepotism, district fiscal mismanagement, lofty superintendent compensation and sinking performance indicators all speak to the same underlying problem: the public schools in Kershaw are not adequately serving the children who attend public schools there… and they are worsening each year.
As a result, there is growing pressure for the education officials to adopt an online check register detailing all school and district spending, a streamlined funding system that gives more money to teachers and principals (and less to administrators) and ultimately, a statewide public and private school scholarship program like the HOPE and LIFE scholarships that supports parental choices. This would allow all parents -not just weathly ones – to choose between the public, private, charter, magnet or homeschool of their choice.
Parents and teachers in Kershaw are doing their best to educate children; its about time the administrators and politicans matched their effort.