TIMMONSVILLE, S.C. (WBTW) – In a letter addressed to Florence Four staff and families, State Superintendent Molly Spearman announced Florence School District 4 will be combining with Florence School District 1.
“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.”
The districts will be consolidated beginning July 1, 2022. The state Department of Education began providing intensive support to Florence 4 in 2016, eventually taking over the district in 2018, according to the letter.
The district serving Timmonsville has faced a shrinking student population and financial issues in recent years. The state took over control of the district about two years ago.
Some community members and leaders concerns with Spearman held a town meeting on the issue in September, including Timmonsville Mayor Darrick Jackson and Rep. Robert Williams.
One of the concerns was about transportation and what would happen if the high school were to close, sending students elsewhere. Spearman said the state would provide transportation as mandated, but a solution would need to be worked out for extra-curricular activities.
“This is more than just about moving kids to another school. You have to look at the economic impact it would have on the families and the town,” Mayor Jackson said. The mayor said he would support a merger, but he doesn’t want to see any of the schools shut down.
“The overwhelming statements made to me is, ‘Let’s consolidate, but let’s not close the high school,’” said Sen. Kevin Johnson. “So I’d like the state to look and see if there’s any feasible way we can consolidate with Florence One and keep Timmonsville high open.”
Timmonsville High School will no longer be used as a high school at the time of the consolidation, and high school students will be sent to schools within Florence 1, according to the letter.
The school will still be used for middle and elementary school, as well as for “other community needs in the future.”
“Our town is slowly, but surely being deprived, ripped and stripped from our culture,” said Titus Echols, who graduated from Timmonsville High and now attends Winthrop University.
Echols started a petition last year to keep Florence 4 open because he says Timmonsville High helped fuel his passion for education, which he’s studying at Winthrop.
“I’ll be graduating a year early, so I was able to get some college credits while I was in Timmonsville,” said Echols. “I’m on the pathway to success and it is only by way of Timmonsville.”
In response to the state’s decision, Mayor Jackson says losing the high school will hurt the town.
“This has been disheartening,” the mayor said. “It’s been very unfortunate that the decision has made to come to close up a school in a small community.”
Mayor Jackson also says he disagrees with how the state handled the consolidation since that virtual meeting in September.
“The way it was handled, it wasn’t transparent,” he said. “It was like, ‘We’re going to do this. You’ll like it or you don’t.'”
Mayor Jackson and Echols say the state has closed down some districts in communities with mostly minority students like Timmonsville.
“Systemic racism does not dissolve, but in actuality, it evolves,” said Echols.
A transition committee will be appointed, representing both Florence 1 and Florence 4, according to Spearman.
A Florence 1 Schools spokesperson says that district won’t comment on the consolidation plan until it receives more information from the state.