Board spat erupts over notification

WINNSBORO — A dispute over which members of the school board were notified ahead of the surprise presentation of a major teaching award caused tensions to flare at Monday night’s Fairfield County board of trustees meeting.

Board member Paula Hartman voiced her displeasure that she was not informed in time to attend the surprise announcement – that Fairfield Central High School teacher Chanda Jefferson had been named a state teacher of the year finalist.

State Superintendent Molly Spearman personally delivered the news to Jefferson during a surprise visit earlier last week.

A majority of Fairfield school board members were also on hand, posing for photos. Hartman, however, was not there.

“How was the board notified that Molly Spearman was coming out?” Hartman asked.

District Superintendent Dr. J.R. Green said he sent a text and an email about a “special announcement” at the school.

“She [Spearman] wanted it to be a total surprise so nobody knew about it,” Green said.

“I’ve looked through my emails and I have not seen anything,” Hartman replied. “Can you send a copy that I received it? I’d like to have a copy. To my knowledge, I did not get notified.”

The S.C. Department of Education routinely distributes news releases in advance of major announcements, such as teacher of the year finalists, though they’re usually embargoed until the event.

Agency spokesman Ryan Brown said there’s no requirement that school board members receive advance notice about superintendent visits.

“They are surprise visits and we only notify the district superintendent (for planning purposes) and media,” Brown said via email. “The district superintendent works with the principal to set up the surprise announcement at the school.”

Green praised Jefferson for her distinction.

“Ms. Jefferson is an example of the excellent education you can expect here in Fairfield County.”

In other business, the board received a preliminary report about the status of the current budget.

Documents included in the agenda packet list a current revenue shortfall of about $3.47 million, largely due to nearly $5.16 million in state funds that haven’t made it into district coffers yet.

Total expenditures are down about $17.76 million, leaving a net windfall of $14.28 million, documents show.

Board chairman William Frick cautioned that the budget report is a snapshot of district financials as they stand right now.

Frick noted that figures will likely change as more revenues and expenditures are accounted for, though he said the district still anticipates a windfall from which teacher sign on bonuses, approved earlier this year, would come from.

Earlier in the meeting, Frick said the district benefits greatly from the V.C. Summer Nuclear Plant, which provides the district with needed revenue.

“I’m not sure folks realize how lucky we are in Fairfield County,” Frick said. “We’re not a wealthy community. If not for that facility [V.C. Summer], we would not be able to do it.”

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