April 1, 2015

Lawsuit claims frat members present when Clemson student fell off bridge

Tucker Hipps (Facebook)

Tucker Hipps (Facebook)

The parents of a Clemson student who investigators believe died after falling off a bridge last September have now filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the fraternity he was pledging at the time. The suit, which gives a very different narrative than the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office report, claims other frat members were not only present at the time but later tried to cover up their actions that morning.

The lawsuit seeking $25 million in damages names three members of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity as defendants, but South Carolina Radio Network has decided not to repost them due to the seriousness of the accusations and lack of criminal charges at this time. SPE has since been suspended by Clemson officials.

“Tucker Hipps’s death was a senseless and avoidable tragedy. The culture of hazing and inappropriate conduct by social fraternities must be stopped,” Cynthia and Gary Hipps said in a statement released through their attorney. “Universities and fraternities must make change from within to protect their own.”

The three individuals are accused of organizing a pledge run in the early morning hours of September 22.  Prior to that run, Hipps — the pledge class president who often acted as liaison between the new and old members– had been told by a fraternity brother to buy 30 biscuits, hash browns, and 2 gallons of milk before the run, the lawsuit stated. Pledges at SPE were often expected to run errands at any hour of the day on behalf of upperclassmen and the fraternity as part of their initiation. The suit claimed Hipps told the brother he did not have the money to buy that much food and was told to raise what he needed from fellow pledges.

[Read more…]

Measure allowing SC State furloughs returns to state Senate

State Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter pushed to include language requiring agency heads take furloughs as well (File)

State Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter pushed to include language requiring agency heads take furloughs as well (File)

State House members have given South Carolina State University their approval to begin mandatory employee furloughs, advancing the measure back to the Senate on Thursday.

The resolution which passed on a unanimous 100-0 vote Wednesday would give financially struggling SC State the ability to institute up to 20 days of furloughs through the 2015-16 fiscal year. However, school leaders have previously indicated they would put a seven-day furlough in place. SC State officials requested the furloughs earlier this year, saying the cuts would save about $750,000.

South Carolina State is currently facing a deficit of $23.5 million in money owed to vendors and loan debt owed to the state, according to an audit released last week. The Senate passed a similar version earlier this year.

“Because of the magnitude of the problems there, we felt very strongly that this was an option they would need to utilize,” State Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter , D-Orangeburg, told South Carolina Radio Network. “We thought it prudent to go ahead and give them permission now, as opposed to waiting.”

State law does not allow an agency to furlough employees unless its budget has been cut. Since that is not the case at SC State this year, the school is seeking special permission from the legislature.

The House changed the Senate version to make it take effect over two years (the current fiscal year ends in three months). It also specifies that some employees in law enforcement, patient care, or other “front-line” services can be exempt from the mandatory days off. If the cutbacks are across the board, it must also include agency chiefs, the bill states.

“I am hopeful the interim administration will look at where they can get the most bang for the buck and make the furloughs apply in that regard,” Cobb-Hunter said. “It is not, in my opinion, wise to try to save money on the backs of the lowest-paid employees.”

The changes are now headed back to the Senate.

Study: SC facing shortfall of over 100,000 workers with college degrees

Francis Marion University (File)

Francis Marion University (File)

A new report released Tuesday predicts that South Carolina will be short more than 114,000 college graduates by 2030 — roughly the same number of people who live in the cities of Greenville and Spartanburg combined– if no changes occur.

Competing Through Knowledge, the SC Business Leaders Higher Education Council project that released the report, revealed information that calculates the state’s workforce will have a shortfall of more than 100,000 skilled graduates for the most in-demand career fields.

The report is based on a study by the University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business. Research economists Dr. Doug Woodward and Dr. Joey Von Nessen calculated the state will lack 70,540 graduates with a bachelor’s degree or higher. In addition to these graduates, there will also be a shortage of 44,010 workers with two-year degrees.

In its analysis of those findings, Competing Through Knowledge highlighted proposals that would put more students through college. Some of those ideas include rebates for students in fields with the greatest market needs and financial aid for students with poor and middle-class backgrounds. It also suggest more accessible online courses and additional higher education funding from the state.

“We wanted to make sure that South Carolina had the type of workforce that it needed to satisfy the job market not just this year and next year, but for the next 15 years,” former Gov. Jim Hodges, who is helping lead the initiative, told South Carolina Radio Network.

The study notes the gap already exists: data from the National Skills Coalition found 57 percent of South Carolina’s jobs in 2012 required “middle skills” (some education after high school, but not a 4-year college degree), while only 47 percent of the state’s workforce was at that skill level. The same study also predicted 53 percent of new jobs would require “middle skills.”

The report recommends finding ways to increase the number of graduates in several fields — especially science, math, and healthcare. In particular, the report estimated an additional 44,000 healthcare workers will be needed by 2030.

Children in rural 4-year-old kindergarten may be dropping behind urban peers

EOC director Melanie Barton  (Image: SCETV)

EOC director Melanie Barton (Image: SCETV)

Education officials say an expansion of four-year-old kindergarten has not seen the desired impact in poor, rural counties so far. They warn the achievement gap even appears to be increasing between students in the relatively new program and their urban counterparts.

Members of the Senate were briefed on the findings last week, according to The State newspaper.

South Carolina lawmakers have significantly expanded 4K in the state as part of a budget deal between Democrats who support the program and Republicans who are hesitant about it. In 2013, senators expanded all-day kindergarten from 8 school districts in 2011 to 57 districts in 2015. Eligible districts must have a poverty index of 70 percent or higher. Approximately 12,000 students are enrolled in the Child Development Education Pilot Program (CDEPP) now,

But a January report by the Education Oversight Committee (EOC) found CDEPP students are not showing the progress seen in other wealthier districts that are not in the CDEPP program. While CDEPP students do better than low-income four-year-olds in their districts who did not participate in the program, they trail the statewide average in percentage of non-CDEPP students who “met or exceeded” state standards in Math and English/Language Arts.

The math and English results are taken from the PASS test that students must take in grades 3-5 several years after their CDEPP experience.

[Read more…]

Officials identify USC student found dead in off-campus home

Officials have now identified an 18-year-old University of South Carolina student who was found dead in an off-campus house Wednesday morning.

The Richland County Coroner’s Office said Thursday it is still waiting for toxicology results before declaring a cause of death for Charles “Charlie” Terreni, Jr. The Columbia native and USC freshman was found dead around 10:30 a.m. Wednesday in a home located near the city’s Five Points district. The coroner said there were no signs of traumatic injuries.

The Coroner’s Office said Terrini did not live at the house.

Terreni was a member of the Pi Kapa Alpha fraternity at USC. The national fraternity announced it had suspended the chapter shortly after the death was revealed. “The fraternity’s thoughts and prayers are with the family of this young man and the brothers of Xi Chapter,” the national organization said in a statement.

The freshman was a 2014 graduate of Cardinal Newman High School in Columbia. His father Charles Terrini is a Midlands attorney who specializes in government and utilities law.

The University of South Carolina warned against jumping to conclusions about Terrini’s death. “There are a lot of rumors out there about the circumstances surrounding the death but at this point the matter remains under investigation,” university spokesman Wes Hickman said in a statement. “While we await further information we are focused on helping our community grieve and heal.”