State legislators worried about the future of a McCormick County school for at-risk teens are moving to bring it under closer state control.
The state-owned John de la Howe (JDLH) School is on the verge of losing its accreditation and has had financial troubles for years. A 2013 Inspector General’s audit found it spent more than $87,000 per student with no assessments as to whether its education was successfully helping those at-risk teens. That cost has since grown to more than $92,000 per student, according to the state Education Oversight Committee. School leaders dispute those numbers, noting their students tend to transfer in and out at a higher rate than traditional schools.
South Carolina’s House of Representatives last week voted for a budget proviso that would suspend the school’s board of trustees for one year and turn over its day-to-day operations to an advisory board consisting of representatives from several Cabinet agencies, particularly the state Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) , the Department of Social Services (DSS), and state Department of Education.
Several calls to JDLH President Danny Webb’s office on Tuesday were not immediately returned, but JDLH school leaders have opposed previous state takeovers in the past.
“Contrary to what a few people may think or believe, all of us want it to succeed and soar,” State Rep. Kenny Bingham, R-Cayce, explained on the House floor. “But, at the same length of time, we’ve all got to be accountable to our taxpayers.”
The school was established in 1797 according to the will of Dr. John de la Howe. De la Howe’s estate of 2,000 acres in McCormick County was left to the state to care for 12 poor boys and 12 poor girls in a school based setting with preference to be given to orphans. The school became an independent state agency in 1918 and now houses about 70 students.
Following the 2013 Inspector General’s report, the House and Gov. Nikki Haley tried to move the school under the Department of Juvenile Justice’s purview. However, the Senate rejected the idea.
But State Sen. Wes Hayes, R-York, whose subcommittee will consider the proviso next month, said he does not know how things will play out this year. “That’s probably going to be one of the tougher issues we have to take up,” he told South Carolina Radio Network.
A spokesman with the state Department of Education said an update is expected next week on the school’s accreditation.