April 23, 2014

Sen. Shealy, a Haley ally, calls for DSS director’s removal

 

State Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, during a Senate hearing into DSS problems earlier this year

State Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, during a Senate hearing into DSS problems earlier this year

A second state senator is now calling for Gov. Nikki Haley to remove the director of South Carolina’s child services agency.

Speaking to WTMA’s Tara Servatius on Wednesday, State Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, said she believed it was time for Haley to replace Department of Social Services director Lillian Koller, who is under fire for the agency’s handling of child abuse cases under their care.

The comments came one day after Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, called on the governor to remove Koller, citing unflattering new data from inside the agency. But Shealy’s position is perhaps more jarring. Lourie is a frequent critic of the Republican governor, while Shealy is considered a Haley ally. The governor even actively campaigned for Shealy against a fellow Republican in the 2012 election.

During Wednesday’s program, Servatius directly asked Shealy if it was time for Gov. Haley “to show (Koller) the door?”

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Court hearing in Harrell-Wilson scheduled for next week? Sides disagree

The next round of the fight between one of South Carolina’s most powerful politicians and its chief prosecutor will be held in a Columbia courtroom next week.

SC Attorney Gen. Alan Wilson (File)

SC Attorney Gen. Alan Wilson (File)

At least, according to one of the attorneys in the case. Problem is, the other parties involved are not confirming it.

House Speaker Bobby Harrell (File)

House Speaker Bobby Harrell (File)

It’s the latest chapter in the unusual public fight between House Speaker Bobby Harrell and the man who sent his ethics case to the State Grand Jury — Attorney General Alan Wilson. Harrell’s attorneys are asking a judge to remove Wilson from the case, claiming a conflict of interest due to Wilson’s previous lobbying the House for a new ethics reform law. One of Harrell’s staffers testified last month that Wilson had offered to drop the ethics case in exchange for Harrell’s support of a new Public Integrity Unit, an accusation Wilson denies.

The Charleston Post & Courier first reported a court hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, April 30 at 10 a.m., quoting Harrell’s attorney Gedney Howe. However, a clerk of court for the State Grand Jury would not confirm the date to reporters, saying they would be notified when a date is set. Wilson’s spokesman said the Attorney General has not been notified of any hearing.

A complaint filed against Harrell last year by the South Carolina Policy Council claimed the Speaker misused campaign funds and used his position as Speaker of the House of Representatives to benefit a pharmaceutical business he owns. Harrell denies the charges, calling them politically motivated.

Circuit Judge Casey Manning is hearing Harrell’s motion to remove Wilson.

Senator calls on governor to remove DSS director

Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, on Tuesday said DSS is in "complete meltdown"

Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, on Tuesday said DSS is in “complete meltdown”

A state senator on Tuesday called for Gov. Nikki Haley to remove the director of South Carolina’s child services agency, saying that new data from last month shows the agency in “complete meltdown.”

But Haley’s spokesman said the governor refused, calling the accusations politically motivated.

State Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, has been a frequent critic of the state Department of Social Services the past four months, previously calling on agency director Lillian Koller to resign. But now the Democratic senator says a new internal report inside DSS has prompted him to change tactics and instead call for the governor to fire Koller.

“When you have low employee morale, bad things are going to happen,” Lourie told reporters during a Statehouse press conference Tuesday afternoon. “But when that agency deals with vulnerable children, the outcome of that dysfunction can be very tragic.”

Lourie showed reporters new numbers from DSS internal data that showed nearly half of all children involved in reported abuse or neglect cases from March 1-31 were not visited within 24 hours, as state law requires. The senator said he was angry that DSS reported his home Richland County did not have in-person visits for more than 70 percent of cases within 24 hours. York County was nearly 74 percent of cases in March, while Anderson County was 71 percent. The statewide average was 46 percent.

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Confusion among schools as SC withdraws from next-generation tests

The decision by South Carolina’s schools chief to withdraw from a consortium that crafted the next generation of student testing gives the state little time to find a replacement. Meanwhile, school districts say they are moving ahead but are getting little guidance on what to do next.

Education Superintendent Mick Zais surprised many when he announced South Carolina was withdrawing from the new tests (File)

Education Superintendent Mick Zais surprised many when he announced South Carolina was withdrawing from the new tests (File)

“There’s just been very little communication with districts,” South Carolina School Boards Association spokeswoman Debbie Elmore said. “To be quite honest, districts are just proceeding and doing what they’ve always done. But there’s a lot of questions.”

Earlier this month, state Education Superintendent Mick Zais informed districts that he was withdrawing the state from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, a multistate group that drafted new tests for Common Core standards that begin in the 2014-15 school year. The tests are unpopular with some parents, politicians, and even a few educators who are concerned its radically-different methods will result in lower test scores.

Zais’ move came after the South Carolina House of Representatives voted 89-9 on April 10 to effectively block the Smarter Balanced tests. The superintendent, who opposes Common Core, told school districts to suspend the tests in anticipation that the Senate would later vote the same way. But the unilateral move shocked the state Board of Education, which had voted just the previous week to stick with the tests.

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Governor signs law eliminating high school exit exam requirement

State Rep. Phil Owens, R-Easley, sponsored the bill last year (Image: FILE)

State Rep. Phil Owens, R-Easley, sponsored the bill last year (Image: FILE)

Gov. Nikki Haley has signed into law legislation that eliminates an exit exam high school students are required to pass in order to graduate.

The Associated Press first reported the bill‘s signing on Monday. Childhood disability advocates have spent several years pushing for the High School Assessment Program to be replaced, arguing the test is often the one impediment keeping some students with learning disabilities from receiving a diploma.

The proposal passed both the state House and Senate in unanimous votes.

Students usually take the exit exam late in their sophomore year. Those students who do not pass both the English and math portions on their first attempt are allowed to try again. The test is not considered difficult. Last year, 80 percent of test-takers in South Carolina passed both sections on their first try, according to the state Department of Education. However, roughly 8 percent of seniors were not able to graduate in 2012 because they failed to pass the HSAP.

Next school year, 11th graders will take two tests. The law specifies one will be ACT WorkKeys, which awards job-skills credentials students can take to employers. The other will test for college readiness. The AP reports that specific test hasn’t been picked.

An Education Department spokesman said Education Superintendent Mick Zais supports ending the exit exam graduation requirement.