Allendale County Schools drop lawsuit

State Dept. of Education, Allendale Co. School District agree to collaborate

The South Carolina Department of Education (SCDE) and the Allendale County School District announced Friday, July 28 that they have agreed to collaborate in the management of the educational programs and operations of Allendale schools and the district office, as well as collaboration in other areas of school and district governance that impact management of the academic program, financial risk, and accreditation.

The agreement comes after State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman declared a “state of emergency” for Allendale County Schools on June 19. That was followed two days later by a lawsuit filed by the Allendale County School Board against the SCDE on June 21.

A press release from the SCDE states, “Allendale welcomes the management of the South Carolina Department of Education for district operations that impact student achievement, reduce financial risk, assure accreditation, and increase district efficiencies.”

“The South Carolina Department of Education welcomes Allendale’s collaboration and seeks to support those areas in which Allendale’s schools and district governance require assistance.”

“The South Carolina Department of Education and the Allendale County School District share the mutual goal to provide a program of rigorous instruction, high expectations, and a growth mindset to improve student achievement in the district,” stated the release.

The school district and the Dept. of Education jointly requested the South Carolina Supreme Court dismiss the lawsuit “with prejudice” which means it cannot be reopened.

The parties further agree that each party shall bear its own costs and attorneys’ fees incurred in connection with this action, states the court documents.

The agreement is for 18 months and will be renegotiated no later than November 2018 “or earlier when assessment results from 2018 are received.”

The State Department of Education provided Allendale technical assistance funds totaling $280,000 plus $20 per student during the 2016-17 school year. The agreement states, “It is the SCDE’s intention to continue making this technical assistance available in School Year 2017-18; provided, however, that as Tier 3 Priority Schools the SCDE retains the right to direct how technical assistance funds are spent.”

The SCDE also “agrees to pay for technical support as it deems necessary for the academic improvement of all district schools.”

In addition, the SCDE agrees to provide additional technical assistance funding up to $200,000 in exchange for Allendale’s agreement to stipulations for the hiring of a district superintendent.

Under the agreement, Allendale’s board will nominate two candidates and the SCDE will nominate one candidate. No more than three candidates will be allowed. The SCDE will review the candidates and provide a recommendation on its choice. The school board cannot approve a candidate or offer a contract unless that candidate has been recommended for hiring by the SCDE.

Principals and other district staff must also have the approval of the SCDE. “Because of performance issues, all hires in the district and school leadership must be approved by the State Superintendent,” states the agreement.

The interim superintendent will be allowed to work with the SCDE to hire a principal or new principals and assistant principals for the elementary, middle and high schools. The Allendale District also “understands and agrees that the State Superintendent through the SCDE has authority to replace the principals in these schools.”

Allendale Schools will issue contracts to teachers “by the statutory deadline.” In addition, “all certified educators are subject to observations with feedback during the school year 2018-19. Teachers “with significant concerns” will be notified.

The SCDE will assist the district in “recruiting highly qualified and highly effective educators to fill vacancies in all the schools.”

The document also notes that Allendale will “cooperate fully with audits and monitoring visits conducted by the SCDE” and “resolve any findings or deficiencies.”

Under a student performance section of the memorandum, Allendale also agrees to “engage a design professional and work with the SCDE to determine the feasibility of establishing an expanded early childhood center to serve Allendale families, for which SCDE will reimburse up to $3,000.”

The SCDE and Allendale agree to “show positive growth in ELA and mathematics at each grade level on the School Value-Added metrics…”

The schools, district and board “will establish an ‘all clear’ accreditation status.”

The memorandum of agreement noted that “Allendale’s leadership team will meet weekly with an SCDE designee to set goals, document evidence of measurable improvement and adjust strategies as necessary.”

The Allendale team and SCDE will provide monthly updates to the local board and State Board of Education.

The agreement states, “The Allendale Board of Trustees will work in good faith with the mutually agreed upon superintendent or interim superintendent…”

“The Board will not interfere with, impede, or attempt to influence the exercise of those duties of the district superintendent…”

The school board will “retain the authority to conduce appellate review of student grievances and fining determinations… Moreover, the Board also retains the authority to vote to approve the district budget after presentation of same by the district superintendent.”

The board also agrees “not to incur any bonded or contractual indebtedness” unless directed by the SCDE.

Another notation in the agreements states that if any board members desire to attend the School Law Conference in Myrtle Beach on August 18-21, then they can request to do so under the board’s policies and procedures for board travel.