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Dr. Ronald W. Garner, Superintendent

Dear Spartanburg One Students, Parents, Families, and Communities:


As the 2018 - 2019 school year comes to a close, I would like to congratulate our 5,100+ students and 600+ faculty and staff on their many accomplishments.  As a parent, I truly appreciate how precious our children are and join you in celebrating the many milestones in their growth and development. Our time with our children passes too quickly and every moment matters.  


The purpose of this letter to all Spartanburg One families is to provide you with an accurate update on the developments that our district experienced this past year.  On November 15, 2018, with full support of the Board of Trustees, I contacted Chief Mark Keel with South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) stating my concerns regarding financial discrepancies that were discovered in our bookkeeping records.  On January 10, 2019, I conducted a live press conference from our board room where I communicated that I did not believe any money had been taken. However, due to the discrepancies discovered, it was my opinion that ethically it was my duty to have these discrepancies reviewed by law enforcement.  Otherwise, there would always have been questions as to why the situation was not properly reviewed by the authorities. Therefore, per my request, there was a SLED investigation, which concluded on April 10, 2019. A summary of the SLED report can be found under “Message from the Superintendent” within the “About” section on our district website (www.spart1.org).


I also want to address the past and present financial positions of the district.  As many of you know, school finance can be difficult to understand and comprehend.  I became superintendent on January 1, 2010, and I fully accepted the challenge of knowing that it would be very difficult to navigate these unsettled waters.  The Great Recession was in full swing and school funding was in a significant decline from the federal, state, and local levels. Act 388 had been enacted in 2006 and districts like ours were beginning to feel the effects of being a primarily 4% owner occupied property district.  4% owner occupied properties (our homes) are exempt from school operating taxes. Therefore, districts like ours with very little or no industry were particularly hard hit by this 4% owner occupied exemption. 2010, 2011, and 2012 were very difficult budget years due to the significant cuts that we endured.  We cut supplies, positions, and furloughed all employees during these challenging times.


Then, on June 28, 2012, the Budget Conference Committee cut $20 million dollars of recurring funds from the state budget that was intended as “hold harmless” money, which significantly impacted rural districts like ours following the implementation of Act 388.  The “hold harmless” proviso was put into place to offset the significant negative impact of Act 388 on primarily residential, rural school districts. The loss of this funding to Spartanburg One was highlighted in the S.C. Supreme Court argument during the equity versus adequacy debate of Abbeville County School District, et al. v. the State of South Carolina.  Only one other school district in the state, Dorchester Two, was impacted more severely by the removal of this “hold harmless” proviso.   The unintended consequences of Act 388 compounded the inability of smaller, more rural school districts to generate enough funds for operations, particularly when compared to school districts who have larger industrial tax bases.


This is a day that I will never forget because it meant that our district lost approximately $759,000 of recurring revenue.  This was devastating because there was no way to make adjustments of this magnitude with the fiscal year set to begin on July 1.  This would have meant that at least 20 positions would have to have been cut immediately. I worked with the Board during this time and it was decided that we would “stay the course” and absorb this loss over time by using reserve funds until we could stabilize.  The reduction of that funding now exceeds $5,000,000 over the last 7 years. It took a few years to absorb this loss, and we are still feeling its impact. In 2015, the district was able to refinance the bonds used to build the 2 new high schools at a lower interest rate without extending the terms of the borrowing.  This enabled the district to save the proceeds of one bond payment with the intent of replenishing our reserve funds at the appropriate time. The district was also able to use these savings to establish a 7 year capital plan for the district so that needed repairs could be completed and aging equipment could be replaced.  This was such a blessing in that it allowed us some flexibility to gradually replenish our reserve funds while reinvesting in the capital needs of our district. 


Many of you probably saw the news article in the Spartanburg Herald Journal on April 25, 2019, that outlined the results of our FY 2018 audited financials.  It was also noted that the district was given a designation of Fiscal Caution by the S.C. State Department of Education in 2018 for not carrying a fund balance of 8.33 %.  This designation requires the district to submit a plan to the S.C. State Department of Education on how it plans to improve the amount of its reserve funds. The FY 2018 audit can be found under “Message from the Superintendent” within the “About” section on our district website (www.spart1.org).  While the financial events of this past year are disappointing, it was necessary to attack this problem head on and deal with it in such a way to set a positive path forward.  Despite the unfortunate circumstances I am addressing in this letter, I am proud of the fact that our district is financially stable and will finish the year with more than $2,400,000 in the General Fund Fund Balance and over $1,000,000 available yearly in the capital improvement fund for planned and unexpected repairs.  This places us well on our way of meeting the minimum requirement for reserve funds with a solid plan of improving each year moving forward. However, it is important to note it is my opinion that our district will never be able to carry a large fund balance due to the fact that our district is primarily comprised of 4% owner occupied property.  The only way that our district could build a strong and vibrant fund balance would be for a relatively large industry to move into the boundaries of our district. That does not seem likely because our growth continues to be primarily residential. This means that we will have to continue to make the best of the resources that we have available. Do we have everything we want? No.  Do we have everything we need? Yes and more. We are thankful to our constituents for what we have.


I think it is important to note that the Board worked with me proactively during this time and did not panic by raising taxes unnecessarily or having any other knee jerk reactions.  It has been communicated to me that there have been some questions as to what should or should not have occurred during this time. It is easy to be critical in hindsight. It is more difficult to be courageous and resolute in the face of challenging circumstances.  Our Board has always been steady and deliberate. As a matter of fact, in the 2010 - 2011 school year, the millage rate for Spartanburg One was at 191.2. The current millage rate for the 2018 - 2019 school year stands at 197.2. It is my opinion that the Board should be commended for increasing the millage rate by only 6 mills over the last 9 years.  This Board had the capacity to increase millage by approximately 63 mills over the last 9 years but has chosen to keep millage to a minimum. I am including a copy of the Spartanburg One millage trends since 2010 - 2011 for your perusal. I have also posted this graph under “Message from the Superintendent” within the “About” section on our district website (www.spart1.org).


Our district has worked hard to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money.  While the loss of funding over the years has been devastating and difficult to endure, the district has been steadfast in being respectful of its resources.  As a matter of fact, we have worked so hard to keep expenditures low that our actual expenditures did not exceed FY 2009 levels until the FY 2015 school year.  I am extremely proud of this fact. It speaks volumes as to how hard we have worked to keep expenditures low while providing a quality, student-centered education. 


Many people have asked me how they can assist with the financial challenges that we face in public education.  The answer is advocacy. Please advocate for the state to fully fund the Base Student Cost (BSC) as required by the Education Finance Act of 1977.  The BSC has only increased by $4.00 per student over the last 11 years. Yes, that is correct. The state was funding the BSC higher in 2008 than it was in 2018.  I am so proud of the group of teachers from Spartanburg One that joined 10,000 other teachers from across the state in Columbia in an effort to advocate for more funding for our schools.   I am extremely proud of the fact that we have worked deliberately to keep taxes as low as possible. I am proud that we have some of the lowest student-teacher ratios around (low class sizes).  I am proud that we have Resource Officers in every one of our schools with countless other safety measures in place. I am proud that we have full-time nurses in every school. I am proud that we have a district technology plan in place that provides a Chromebook for every single student in the district without increasing taxes to do so.  I am proud that our 2 high schools have the highest graduation rates in the county as well as the highest rankings on the school report card. We have the highest ACT scores in the county. We have state championship athletic teams and award-winning visual and performing arts programs. I could go on by naming countless numbers of other awards and achievements.


While I am very proud of Spartanburg One, I recognize that we always have plenty of ways to improve.  While student achievement is important to me, I want every parent to know I believe that a child is much more than a test score.  Relationships are important. Our district theme next year is “Relationships Matter.” The needs of the students we serve are changing and this will require that we change by examining all of our practices, even the programs that have been in place for many years.  It is important to embrace change to meet the needs of children.


I know this letter has been long, but I felt compelled to share this information.  It is important to me that I communicate the facts to you in a detailed manner. It is also important to me that you know my door is always open to you should you have any questions or concerns.  I am positive and enthusiastic about the future of our district. I truly believe the best is yet to come. I love every single student we serve, and I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to serve this district as the superintendent.  It is my prayer that you and your family have a safe and fun-filled summer. I am looking forward to the 2019 - 2020 school year and I know that it will be the best year ever. Thank you so much for your support of our awesome school district.  May God continue to bless you all.


Sincerely,

 

Ronald W. Garner, Ed.D.

Superintendent

Spartanburg One  



Mailing Address: PO Box 218 | Campobello, SC 29322
Physical Address: 121 Wheeler Street | Campobello, SC 29322
Phone: 864-472-2846 | Fax: 864-472-4118
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