Wednesday, March 30, 2011

All quiet in Florence, payroll process still in doubt

A number of parents attended the Florence District 4 school board meeting in Timmonsville last night, but the board went into executive session and kept the public in the dark.

Surely the board discussed the epic malfunction that kept school district employees from being paid on time last week -- receiving their once-a-month paychecks by bank deposit or by physical check -- but since no notes are kept of executive session, and no one is compelled by law to report what was discussed, there's no way to know.

Action is supposed to be taken though, once the board meeting is back open to the public. Some parents who showed up for the meeting Tuesday evening said they anticipated they would be allowed to listen in on the matters involving the education department and wanted to know exactly what was going on inside the district.

Clearly, those parents thought wrong.

"We're not fighting against them, we want to be able to come together and come to a quick resolution because this is a problem that's really escalating day by day fast," said concerned parent, Vernon Davis.

"We must keep showing up to let the board know that the community is dissatisfied with the direction they've taken, but we also have to make sure that we turn the tide around and make sure we head back in the right direction," said concerned resident Butch Hodges.

Plenty is already known about the problem at hand, namely the funding cuts that have led to layoffs, which led directly to last week's payroll mess.

In recent months, Timmonsville's school district has faced a series of problems stemming from a lack of finances.
The problems began in early March when the district announced that it would have to eliminate 19 positions in an effort to try to make up a large budget shortfall.

Those layoffs resulted in a reorganization within the district, where several school activities were combined and where in some cases, faculty took on additional roles.

On Friday, the layoffs resulted in another problem according to district officials, when paychecks were not deposited in district employees accounts because of what officials called a "timing error" that was the result of no longer having a finance director for the district.

That position was one of many lost in the layoffs in early March.

There may be a silver lining, however. Media reports suggest that Florence parents may be organizing themselves to take action. (If I might offer a suggestion for one such action: Electing new leaders that choose to make investment in public schools a priority is always a good start.)

They say that they realize now, more than ever, that any action taken to address some of the issues facing the district may have to be taken by them and have banded together to form a united front.

"We're just here to show them that we're still here, we're not dying, we're not going away we're trying to push forward," Davis said.

Those parents say that even though the process of solving the district's financial woes is a long and cumbersome one, it is a process that they will continue to be a part of and one in which they will not give up. A group of concerned parents is meeting to address many of the issues facing Florence School District 4 including the financial problems, layoffs, the matter involving payroll and possible consolidation attempts with Florence School District 1.

The group will meet at 7 pm Thursday in Timmonsville.

Location to be determined. Bring voter registration forms, y'all.

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