April 16, 2014

SC teachers group questions need for “layoff language” in Senate bill

Senator Paul Thurmond, R-Charleston, has introduced a series of bills focused on teacher performance. The one most likely to get to a vote this session requires a written policy for layoffs, and he wants to see seniority taken out of the equation.

His bill, S. 1144, requires that,  ”Teacher effectiveness, as demonstrated through summative performance ratings, shall be the most significant factor in district reduction in force policies.”  The measure has moved to the full Senate, but he says the bill was “watered down” in a recent committee session to include some mention of seniority in considering what teachers might be laid off in tough budget times.

“Do you take what you can get or do you fight like crazy on this issue that seniority shouldn’t be considered at all. At the end of the day, we are moving the bill forward and it’s still going to be in the discussion,” Thurmond told South Carolina Radio Network.

But the South Carolina Education Association, the teachers advocacy group, questions the need for the bill. The group’s president Jackie Hicks says this policy is already in place:

“Each year we look at these issues, but not from a mandate from the Legislature. We do that within the school system,” Hicks said. “You’re also taking away local control.”

Hicks says it should be up to local districts’ measurements and reduction in force (RIF) policies which she says do not rely on seniority.

Hicks, an educator herself, says he helped formulate RIF policies for different districts.

“We looked at the district needs and what their vision for the students was to be,  and finally you look at seniority. All other things being level, then that was the last thing we looked at,” Hicks argued.

The bill is likely to face further debate in the Senate in the next two weeks.

Vice President Biden to speak at USC graduation next month

Joe Biden last visited South Carolina in September, when he spoke at the Port of Charleston (File)

Joe Biden last visited South Carolina in September, when he spoke at the Port of Charleston (File)

Vice President Joe Biden will give the commencement address at the University of South Carolina’s graduation next month, the school announced Wednesday.

The May 9 ceremony at Columbia’s Colonial Life Arena will feature students graduating from the business school, as well as others majoring in communications, nursing, pharmacy, and public health.

Biden will also receive an honorary doctorate of public administration during the event.

The vice president has made numerous trips to South Carolina since he unsuccessfully ran for president in 2008. He makes the trips while rumored to be considering another run for the White House in 2016.

The school said it will release details on parking, tickets, and access for the commencement in the coming days.

The next day, on May 10, Boeing Company President and CEO W. James McNerney Jr., will speak at the 9:30 a.m. commencement ceremony. McNerney will address graduates of the South Carolina Honors College and the College of Arts and Sciences. He will receive the honorary degree doctor of business administration.

Legislators say lottery money was not meant for college construction

Rep. Brian White, R-Anderson (File)

Rep. Brian White, R-Anderson (File)

When the South Carolina Education Lottery was approved in a referendum 14 years ago, voters were told a majority of the profit would go towards college scholarships for in-state students. But state lawmakers say some of that money is actually going to pay for new “brick and mortar” construction at schools, which they did not intend when they created the program.

“As of late, there’s been some instances where it’s been used in technical colleges and some four-year institutions to actually do building projects,” House Ways & Means Committee chairman Brian White, R-Anderson, said Tuesday.  White, who voted in favor of legislation creating the lottery in 2001, said the construction funding is legal but violates what lawmakers intended when they created the lottery in the first place.

He has proposed legislation that would specifically bar higher education institutions from using lottery proceeds towards capital improvement projects. His bill unanimously cleared the Ways & Means Committee on Tuesday, sending it to the House floor. No one spoke against the proposal during a subcommittee meeting earlier that day.

White said he was aware of five schools, including Midlands Technical College in Columbia and Francis Marion University in Florence, which had used lottery proceeds for construction. A Midlands Tech spokesman could not be reached Tuesday, while a Francis Marion spokesman said he would need to speak with school finance officers before responding.

Some legislators noted the scholarships are losing their relative value. For example, the lottery-funded LIFE scholarship covers $5,000 towards tuition each year at the University of South Carolina. The scholarship was enough to pay for USC’s nearly $3,900 in-state tuition in 2001, but falls well short of the $10,791 mark in 2014.

“The scholarship is not keeping pace with inflation,” State Rep. Kenny Bingham, R-Cayce, said during Tuesday’s meeting. ”So as we’re not increasing it, what we’re doing is devaluing it. And we’re doing it to the benefit of other hands getting in the pot.” Bingham also voted for the lottery in 2001.

White said he would also like to see more scholarship money go towards textbooks.

Jury awards $1.6 million in Francis Marion frat hazing case

A jury awarded $1.6 million to a former Francis Marion University student Thursday after he said he was beaten so badly during a fraternity hazing incident that he had to be hospitalized.

A Florence County jury returned a verdict in favor of Daniel McElveen, according to a release from the McLeod Law Group. McElveen testified that he was repeatedly beaten during the Phi Beta Sigma “Hell Night” initiation process on October 22, 2011. Florence County Sheriff’s deputies arrested nine men at the time for repeatedly hitting McElveen with a paddle so severely that he suffered acute renal failure.

Francis Marion suspended the fraternity and three students after the arrests.

McElveen sued FMU alum and high school teacher Maurice Robinson for his role in the incident. Deputies said Robinson owned the off-campus home where “Hell Night” occurred and acted as a leader at the fraternity. During the trial, Robinson argued McElveen had consented to the beating in order to join the organization. But McElveen’s lead attorney Mullins McLeod argued hazing is not a consensual act, but occurs because “perpetrators hold power and control over the victims.”

The jury reached a verdict of $600,000 in actual damages and $1 million in punitive damages against Robinson.

Legislators back off MUSC-College of Charleston merger


State Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston

State Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston (Image: SCETV)

South Carolina legislators are backing off a proposal to merge the College of Charleston with the Medical University of South Carolina.

A proposal that passed a House panel this week would instead expand the College of Charleston’s course offerings and designate the new courses as part of a new research University of Charleston that would fall under CofC’s leadership.

State Rep. Leon Stavrinakis (D-Charleston) said lawmakers decided this was a better option for the two schools, whose leaders and faculty adamantly opposed a merger. “It just became obvious that there might be a path of less resistance,” he told South Carolina Radio Network.

Stavrinakis and State Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Daniel Island, had pushed the merger earlier this year, saying the combined research university could offer graduate degrees that are needed in the Lowcountry. Stavrinakis said the University of Charleston could offer those courses instead and partner with MUSC on some forms of research.

He said the bill’s language will ensure the school does not duplicate programs offered at other schools in the region. “The whole intent is to offer what’s not available. We’re not doing this so they can offer things which already exist.”

MUSC and CofC officials said they support the new plan, which now heads to the House Ways & Means Committee.

The state currently has three research universities: Clemson, South Carolina, and MUSC.