County, school district fund tuition ‘promise’

WINNSBORO – Fairfield County’s school superintendent says a newly funded program will allow Fairfield County students to attend Midlands Technical College at no cost.

Critics, however, say the money would be better spent elsewhere.

Last month, the Fairfield County Board of Trustees voted 6-1 to approve second reading of the district’s $45.2 million budget for 2019-2020. Board trustee Paula Hartman cast the lone dissenting vote.

The budget does not include a tax increase.

Included in the budget is $75,000 for the Fairfield Promise Program. On Monday night, the Fairfield County Council approved a similar appropriation.

It approved a budget amendment to match the $75,000, yielding $150,000 for Fairfield Promise.

Council members Douglas Pauley and Jimmy Ray Douglas voted in opposition.

Dr. J.R. Green, district superintendent, described the Promise Program as an initiative that would allow Fairfield County students to attend Midlands Technical College-Fairfield campus at no cost.

After qualifying students receive any federal and state financial aid, “the Promise revenue would cover the balance,” Green said.

To qualify, students would need to be a Fairfield County student – it wouldn’t be limited to the traditional public school system – and earn a GPA of 2.5. Green said the Fairfield Promise would resemble a similar program in Greenwood County.

“It is for any student that is a resident of Fairfield County that graduates from high school,” Green said. “We’re extremely excited about this.”

The Greenwood program, however, doesn’t fully fund college tuition for every student in the county. It uses a sliding scale that bases scholarship awards on length of residency, according to the Greenwood Promise website.

For example, qualifying students attending county schools from grades 9 to 12 receive 65 percent funding, while students who began in Grade 5 receive 85 percent. Students starting in grades 10 or later get nothing.

Only students attending school in the district since kindergarten receive a 100 percent award, the website states.

Green said the $150,000 appropriation only leaves enough money for the 2019 school year.

“Obviously with more funding we could go back to the class of 2016 or 2015,” he said.

District officials said the $75,000 appropriation is not an additional budget item.

Kevin Robinson, the district’s finance director, said funds were freed up by adjusting other budget expenditures.

Fairfield County funding, however, is less certain.

The county funded its share via budget amendment, essentially a one-off that’s not guaranteed year-to-year.

Pauley said he didn’t oppose the program, but thought it should be funded from municipal grant funds.

“I’m inclined to vote in favor of it, but we need to pull the money for it from somewhere else in the budget,” Pauley said. “I believe it is important and can be a big help to our youth.”

Councilman Jimmy Ray Douglas saw the expenditure as taxpayer waste, questioning the value of Midland Technical College’s Fairfield campus.

“That’s a waste of money. They’ve wasted money ever since they’ve been there. They’ve done nothing for the use of Fairfield County,” Douglas said. “They have tried to get nobody there to take classes and its called Midland Tech campus in Fairfield County, and they haven’t taught anything.”

Paula Hartman, the Fairfield school board member who voted against the budget, said she didn’t oppose the Fairfield Promise expenditure per se, but did voice concerns about its viability.

“If it’s something we don’t know we’re going to have, how are we going to budget for it?” she asked.

Teacher Village update

In other business, Dr. Green briefed trustees on the progress of the Teacher Village, a proposed housing project designed to lure and retain teachers by building a low-rent subdivision in Winnsboro.

So far, the district has spent $12,500 in taxpayer money on the project, including $8,500 for surveying costs and $4,000 in legal expenses.

Hartman questioned why the expenditures were necessary, noting that the Fairfield County School District Education Foundation created to head up the Teacher Village, had $9,100 in its own bank account.

She also wanted to know why staff didn’t seek board approval for the expenditures.

Green said a survey was needed to determine the boundaries of the 22 acres.

“The district absorbed that cost,” Green said.

As for the legal fees, Green said he previously said there would be legal fees associated with setting up the foundation. He said he provided an estimate, but not a final cost.

“That was shared with the board,” he said.

In November 2016, when the board voted to establish the foundation, Green told The Voice that the district would pay roughly $1,000 to register the foundation as a 501(c)(3) organization.

It was not immediately clear why it cost $4,000 instead.

The Teacher Village proposes building 30 homes on 22 acres the district owns off U.S. 321 Bypass, behind the district office. Teachers living there would receive taxpayer funded rent subsidies, cutting rent by about $300 a month.

Gorelick Brothers Financial, a Charlotte, North Carolina firm that would build the development, is also seeking a $600,000 property tax waiver.