February 27, 2015

Senate panel gives OK to replacement of SC State trustees

Members of the Senate Higher Education subcommittee discuss the bill Tuesday

Members of the Senate Higher Education subcommittee discuss the bill Tuesday

A state Senate panel on Tuesday advanced a bill that would remove the South Carolina State University board of trustees.

The Higher Education Subcommittee voted unanimously in favor of a bill that would replace the current board with a new five-member panel. That panel, appointed by the governor and legislative leaders, would serve through 2018. The proposal slightly differs from House budget language that would replace the board with the State Financial Accountability Authority (consisting of the governor, Senate and House budget chairmen, State Treasurer, and Comptroller General).

The measure now heads to the Senate Education Committee for its meeting Wednesday. It will likely be taken up on the Senate floor next week then sent to the House.

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Former leader of defunct charter school in court Tuesday

The trial of a former leader of a defunct charter school will begin Tuesday.

40-year-old Benita Dinkins-Robinson is charged with two counts of theft of government property. She has pleaded not guilty in the case that stems from an investigation into a former charter school which operated in Bishopville and Sumter for six years.

Dinkins-Robinson ran the Mary L. Dinkins Higher Learning Academy from 2007 to 2013. The school had a tumultuous history, fighting several years of legal battles with state education officials over allegations of poor student test scores and misused money.

The South Carolina Public Charter School District’s board eventually revoked the Bishopville school’s charter in 2012 and asked the State Law Enforcement Division to investigate reports of fraud. But the academy reopened without state approval in a Sumter church as a countersuit made its way through the court system. A judge ordered it closed for good in March 2013.

Then last year, Dinkins-Robinson was indicted on charges of illegally converting funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Education for her own use. An indictment handed down last May accuses her of stealing Agriculture Department funds meant for school nutrition and special education grant money from the US Education Department.

She faces up to 10 years in prison for each charge.

Mary L. Dinkins Academy had been part of the Lee County School District, but transferred to the statewide district under a probationary arrangement in 2010. But the board voted to revoke its charter only two years later. Roughly 140 children attended the school when it was shut down.

Judge Terry Wooten is presiding over the case.

SC State board votes to place President Elzey on administrative leave

S.C. State University president Thomas Elzey (Image: The Citadel)

S.C. State University president Thomas Elzey (Image: The Citadel)

In a unanimous vote Tuesday, the South Carolina State University board of trustees placed the school’s president on paid administrative leave.

The vote followed a three-hour meeting behind closed doors as the trustees discussed the contract of President Thomas Elzey. Elzey was hired in 2013 as the school was already entering a financial tailspin, but state leaders did not think he was doing enough to reduce the school’s estimated $17 million deficit ($11 million owed to vendors and an outstanding $6 million loan from the state). Publicly, the board had opposed the idea of removing him until Monday’s meeting.

“We think the decisions we’ve made today are strong,” board secretary Ronald Henegan, Sr., told reporters afterwards. “And we stand behind them.”

The vote comes as South Carolina legislators move to have the state take over the school. Both the House and Senate are discussing separate proposals that would remove SC State’s board of trustees and replace it with another board appointed directly by the governor and legislative leaders.

Acting President W. Franklin Evans (Image: SC State)

Acting President W. Franklin Evans (Image: SC State)

Interim Provost W. Franklin Evans has been named Acting President while state and school leaders sort out what happens next. Evans also led the school briefly in 2013 on an interim basis before trustees eventually hired Elzey.

“Under my leadership, we will continue to move forward in preserving the rich legacy of excellence that is SC State University,” Evans said in a statement after the vote. “These are critical times at SC State; therefore, it is imperative that we remain focused on the matters most important to the institution’s short-and long-term sustainability.”

Elzey still has three years remaining on his contract. The Associated Press reports his salary is $305,000.

Some lawmakers and alumni did not support the vote. Even though he agreed Elzey needed to be replaced, State Sen. John Matthews, D-Orangeburg, said he would have preferred the board wait until state lawmakers figured out their next step.

“I don’t know what we can gain by firing a president for two or three weeks, then we put a new board in place and they’ve got to hire somebody,” he told South Carolina Radio Network before the vote. “So you have another change at the top. I just think the continuity would be better if they’d wait.”


Lawmakers push to require CPR training as part of high school curriculum

SC Statehouse

SC Statehouse

South Carolina high students would need to learn how to perform CPR on a manikin under a bill that is now headed to the state Senate.

High school students are already required to learn CPR as part of their health education credit. The legislation approved by unanimous vote in the House last week will require training on a dummy as part of the curriculum.

The bill’s sponsor State Rep. Don Wells, R-Aiken, said he felt an application section in the course would better prepare young adults should they be around when someone suffers a heart attack.

“We’re all a little afraid of something we’ve never done before,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “But actually showing them the proper way to do CPR and them practicing on a dummy makes them much more comfortable in that type of situation.”

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20 Citadel cadets disciplined, four others leave entirely, after hazing investigation



The Citadel said it has disciplined 20 cadets, while four others have left school entirely, amid a crackdown on allegations of hazing at the state’s military college.

The school released a statement Friday saying the actions came after Commandant of Cadets Capt. Geno Paluso met with all freshmen this month and reminded them they have a duty to report hazing. He gave the freshmen until noon the next day to do so.

The Citadel first provided the statement at the request of The State newspaper.

The school reported a total of 85 hazing or mistreatment accusations (it did not say how many believed to be accurate). The statement did not go into specifics about the alleged hazing. It also did not say how the 20 students were disciplined, nor if the four who left “voluntarily” were facing expulsion.

“The commandant’s office is currently investigating the other allegations and handling them expeditiously,” according to the statement from spokesman Brett Ashworth.

Paluso, a former Navy SEAL commander, became the commandant of cadets last summer. He has said he is “serious” about eliminating freshman hazing at the 2,300-student military college.