County Promise awaits MTC’s OK

WINNSBORO – Fairfield Promise, a program designed to allow qualifying students to attend college at no cost, is moving forward without participation from Fairfield County Council — at least for the time being.

At last week’s Fairfield County school board meeting, Superintendent Dr. J.R. Green announced that 24 students are participating in the inaugural Promise Program class.

Twenty-one graduated from Fairfield Central High School. Two from Richard Winn Academy and the other from a virtual charter school.

“I anticipate we’ll see the number of students [attending] even higher next year,” he said, calling this year’s class “an excellent start.”

Green has previously estimated that it would cost $150,000 to launch the Promise Program. The initial vision was for the county and school district to each pitch in matching $75,000 appropriations.

On July 8, the school district, the county council and Midlands Tech signed a Memorandum of Understanding, or MOU, pledging to work together to craft a formal joint agreement.

In the end, however, the school district and county signed separate agreements with Midlands Tech.

The school district had already put together its version of the Promise Program agreement, voting June 4 to fund it and finalizing its approval on July 16.

Fairfield County approved its version of the contract on Aug. 12, voting to “approve the [school district’s] Promise Program agreement with amendments,”

The county’s contract has not yet been approved by Midlands Tech.

Neil Robinson, chairman of Fairfield County Council, said that while the school district is doling out a $75,000 lump sum payment, the county has asked to be billed as needed.

“We’re pulling money from two different pots (the school district and the county},” Robinson said. “From the council’s perspective, a majority of us wanted more accountability.”

“The main thing here is kids are going to school for free,” Robinson said.

The Voice sought a copy of the county’s version of the contract under the state’s open records law, but the county said it couldn’t comply, citing the lack of final approval [by Midlands Tech.] 

“The Promise Program contract has not been executed by all parties,” County Attorney Tommy Morgan wrote in a response letter. “Therefore, the County is unable to provide those documents at this time pursuant to [state law].”

Councilman Douglas Pauley said he supports the pay-as-you-go method as opposed to paying a lump sum.

“We have not given our $75,000 yet,” Pauley said. “When they send us a bill with how many kids they’ve got, then we’ll cut them a check.”

Green said the district moved forward on its own. He wouldn’t discuss the school district’s position on the county’s amendments, but acknowledged the county isn’t yet bound by the contract until it is approved by Midlands Tech.

“I will defer to the county on their positions on specific amendments,” Green said.
A recent Fairfield County school newspaper article stated that Green said the Promise Program wouldn’t require taxpayer support. 

Green said the school newspaper was in error.

“A student journalist covered the meeting and incorrectly stated that tax dollars would not be used to fund the program,” he said via email.

At the May 14 school board meeting, during second reading of the 2019-2020 budget, the district announced the inclusion of $75,000 for the Promise Program, according to school board documents.

Green has previously said he hoped the district could establish an endowment to fund the Promise Program. 

“Ultimately, we may try to get to that point,” Green said. “But initially we [the school district and county] are funding it through our respective budgets.”