TIMMONSVILLE, S.C. – The class of 2022 will be the last class to graduate from Timmonsville High School.
Florence County School District Four will be consolidated into Florence One Schools on July 1, 2022 and the high school will be “retired,” according to S.C. Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman.
Spearman, the de facto Florence County School District Four board of trustees since the district was taken over by the state in May 2018, sent a letter to members of the Florence Four community Tuesday.
She did not specify which of the three Florence One high schools – South Florence, West Florence or Wilson – the students would attend.
There were rumors during the early part of the consolidation discussion that the Timmonsville students would be bussed to Wilson, the farthest of the three from Timmonsville, supposedly due to overcrowding at West, the closest school, and South Florence.
Google Maps indicates that Timmonsville High School is equidistant between West Florence and South Florence at 11.3 miles from each school. Wilson High School is 18.7 miles from Timmonsville High School.
But sending the students to Wilson would create a potential Constitutional issue. Namely, is the overcrowding being used as a pretext to send the largely African American students to Wilson, which has a student body that is 66% African American, rather than the more diverse West Florence and South Florence?
Spearman added that the rest of the education center, Timmonsville Elementary School and Johnson Middle School, would continue to serve as schools and that there is the possibility for the high school portion of the center to host community events in the future.
She also said that a transition committee from Florence Four and Florence One will be appointed with the consultation of the legislative delegation.
Darrick Jackson, the mayor of Timmonsville who has criticized Spearman’s handling of the consolidation on several occasions, said Spearman’s announcement Tuesday was “very unfortunate.” Jackson added that he had heard the news but had not yet seen the details of the consolidation plan. He also said that at a 2020 meeting Spearman promised to continue to meet with the community about the proposed consolidation but did not do so.
A spokesperson from the South Carolina Department of Education declined comment for Spearman on Tuesday afternoon, saying that she didn’t have anything to add beyond what was in the letter.
Richard O’Malley, the superintendent of Florence One Schools, said he was aware of the news but had not seen enough to comment.
Spearman’s argument to consolidate the district was simple: It simply does not have the resources to be able to operate on its own.
“It is extremely difficult for districts smaller than 1,000 students to successfully operate financially and programmatically,” Spearman said in the letter. “The administration costs alone take away dramatically from dollars that should be going to teachers and students in the classroom. Students suffer from the lack of course offerings, career development programs, and limited extracurricular activities.”
The argument against consolidation was also simple. The tiny town in western Florence County has already lost so much of its identity, including the fire department (the county annexed the town into its unified fire district) and its water and sewer services (the city of Florence took it over). The loss of the school district and high school might be the final blow for the town.
The argument against consolidation notwithstanding, Spearman has continued to maintain that it does not make financial sense for the state to continue to operate the district as a standalone entity over the long term.
In the letter, Spearman did say she was proud of the district’s accomplishments since the state took it over in May 2018. She mentioned the additional professional development opportunities for teachers, higher student achievement rates in English/language arts and math at the elementary and middle school levels, the additional career and technical opportunities available for high school students and the completion of required audits and fixes to findings of noncompliance in federal program audits.