September 5, 2015

Report: Nearly 10 percent of SC school bus routes longer than 90 minutes

For some South Carolina public-school students getting to and from school can add up to three hours of their day.

According to The State newspaper, nearly 10 percent of the more than 18,000 routes traveled by the state-owned bus fleet in the 2013-14 school year exceeded 90 minutes of one-way travel. The newspaper analyzed data from the state Department of Education.

Lawmakers heard about the long rides as part of several hearings they are holding around the Midlands. The hearings are part of an effort to answer a South Carolina Supreme Court order last year to improve public education in the state’s rural districts.

State law only allows bus routes to go longer than 90 minutes if the route is long “because of a circuitous or meandering road network, extremely low population density, or waterway barriers.”

Legislators are wary of simply buying more buses to cut down the route times, noting the difficulty in maintaining the state’s current fleet. The report notes Education Department data shows half of South Carolina’s more than 5,600 school buses are more than 15 years old and more than 400 are older than 25 years.

Funding for the state-owned bus fleet dropped off in the years following the recent economic recession, but it has increased in the last two state budgets. The agency was given funding to purchase 530 new buses last year. South Carolina is the only state in the country that maintains its own statewide bus fleet — other states either leave the issue to counties and school districts or contract the bus service to a private company.

Nearly 70 percent of USC frats suspended from recruiting new members

A view of the "Greek Village" fraternity and sorority houses at USC (Image: University of South Carolina)

A view of the “Greek Village” fraternity and sorority houses at USC (Image: University of South Carolina)

Nearly 70 percent of the University of South Carolina’s fraternities have been suspended from recruiting new members after school leaders said the groups served alcohol in the presence of recruits.

The student paper The Daily Gamecock first reported Tuesday that 13 of the school’s 19 fraternities can no longer even contact prospective recruits unless they are cleared by the school’s Interfraternity Council. The recruiting of new frat members, known as “rushing,” officially began this week. The other six fraternities not involved are allowed to continue the process.

“It has become clear that over the past several weeks numerous recruitment, alcohol, and risk management violations did indeed occur,” Vice President of Conduct for the Interfraternity Council Jonathan Withrow wrote in a letter to the fraternities.

Withrow went on to call the alleged violations “troubling,” saying the chapters involved had all been warned in an “emergency meeting” with a school administrator last week. “Since many organizations clearly did not take the meeting seriously, more drastic measures must be taken.”

[Read more…]

SC State University agrees to $312,000 settlement with ex-president

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

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

Board of trustees members at South Carolina’s only public historically black university have agreed to pay more than $300,000 in a settlement with their former president.

The South Carolina State University Board of Trustees announced Wednesday that they had reached the agreement with former president Thomas Elzey to dismiss a lawsuit sparked by Elzey’s termination earlier this year.

The previous SC State board of trustees voted to fire Elzey in March shortly after placing him on administrative leave. Elzey filed a breach-of-contract suit saying the trustees never gave a cause for firing him.

Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson ruled that, while the trustees may have not given cause, Elzey’s contract allows them to terminate his employment so long as the president receives a buyout compensation. The Associated Press reported Elzey would stand to receive $425,000 for termination.

State lawmakers later voted to remove all members from the board of trustees, saying they had lost confidence in the board’s ability to correct the problems with the school’s finances. A new board was put into place in early May. [Read more…]

Former charter school official sentenced to 42 months for embezzling

A former charter school director was sentenced to three and a half years in prison Tuesday, five months after a jury found her guilty of embezzling more than $1.5 million in government funds.

Prosecutors accused Benita Dinkins-Robinson of diverting federal funds that should have gone towards the Mary Dinkins Academy of Higher Learning she operated from 2007 until 2013. The FBI said Dinkins-Robinson had instead redirected $1.56 million in Department of Agriculture student lunch funds and Department of Education monies to a network of shell corporations she controlled.

She must also repay $1.5 million in restitution. She had been facing a maximum sentence of 10 years.

The State newspaper reports deputy marshals were called into the sentencing hearing at one point Tuesday, after Dinkins-Robinson’s brother made angry statements about a testifying FBI case agent that court officials viewed as threatening. The FBI said it had been blocked by Dinkins-Robinson refusing to show them the school’s financial records.

Tuesday’s hearing also marked the first time investigators listed a total amount they accuse the former principal of laundering. Prevous court documents had only listed the number as greater than $1 million.

An attorney representing Dinkins-Robinson argued his client was trying to run the school, but did not understand the state’s financial laws. However, U.S. District Judge Terry Wooten said the school official could not show a legitimate use of the $1.56 million, particularly $760,000 in annuities that she purchased.

The Bishopville school’s charter was revoked by the South Carolina Public Charter School District in 2012 and the district asled the State Law Enforcement Division to investigate reports of fraud. The FBI later took over the investigation. But the school reopened without the state’s blessing in a Sumter church as a countersuit made its way through the court system. A judge ordered it closed for good in March 2013.

USC-Upstate chancellor announces plans to step down

Image: USC-Upstate

Chancellor Tom Moore (Image: USC-Upstate)

The chancellor at University of South Carolina-Upstate says he will step down from his post at the Spartanburg campus.

Chancellor Thomas Moore made the announcement during the annual University Day address. His voice noticeably cracked as he said he and his wife had decided his resignation was best.

“As much as I look forward to the year ahead, it’s going to be tough,” Moore said, wrapping up his speech. “Working with you — the faculty, staff, administration, students, clubs and orgs, everything — but Martha and I have decided there are a lot of things that deserve our attention.”

He did not set a date for his departure, saying that will stay in office until USC system President Harris Pastides could conduct a search for his replacement.

“It’s not a waning of interest. It’s not a loss of energy. It’s not a loss of commitment,” Moore told students. “It’s certainly not a loss of optimism about this university in the upcoming year. (President Pastides) has told me that USC-Upstate cannot do what it needs to do, and we have a lot to do this year, with a lame-duck leader.”

Moore was named chancellor at the four-year branch campus in 2011 after serving eight years as vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty at Winthrop University in Rock Hill. His four years at the school were marked with record enrollment and new construction. But the college faculty soured on him the last two years, even giving him a vote of “no confidence” in March over what they called a lack of trust and lack of communication over budget cuts.

Faculty at the school began turning on Moore in May 2014 after more than $450,000 in cuts was announced and school leaders said they would close Center for Women’s and Gender Studies. That center had come under fire from conservative state legislators that year over its plans to host several LGBT-themed events. The event was canceled after complaints from legislators. At the time, Moore said the cuts were “unfortunate timing,” but just coincidence.

While the center remains open one year later, the campus child development center did not survive the cuts.