Timmonsville School District Four And SC Department of Education Shares Facts Regarding Board Elections After Local Media Outlet Files Freedom Of Information Request

July 01, 2021
Dr. Gary Burgess Dr. Gary Burgess

WPDE Television is reporting facts on the issue of Timmonsville school elections in 2020. After receiving emails and text messages from both the department of education and Florence District One. South Carolina Dept. of Education stopped a Florence School District 4 election from taking place during the November 2020 General Election, according to emails obtained by ABC15. “Several viewers asked us to look into what happened with the election and why it wasn't held” said WPDE reporter Tonya Brown.

The emails show the Florence County Elections and Voter Registration Director shared an email sent to Timmonsville school district administrator Tonya Addison back on July 22, 2020. Alford said it involved the Nov. 3, 2020, General Election.

An excerpt from the email reads as follows:

Our records show Florence School District 4 for has 3 Board seats to be elected this November 3. A filing notice can be provided to you in a few days with a timely response to this email.“

It went on to say, “If there are any other vacancies that need to be filled for an unexpired term, we could run a special election for that situation during this election cycle. We must have a written request from the school district notifying us to run a special election.”

S.C. Department of Education State Superintendent of Legal Affairs Cathy Hazelwood sent the following response via email on July 27, 2020. “We do not wish to have a special election. Florence Four is financially unable to afford one. We are nearly certain that Florence One and Four will consolidate in school year 2021, which makes a nine month term for the school board members who have no authority in the district imprudent.

State Education Superintendent Molly Spearman declared a state of emergency in Florence School District Four in May of 2018 because of "chronic financial instability."

Spearman said then the emergency circumstances alleviate the board of all duties previously designated to them.

Dr. Gary Burgess is the spokesman for Timmonsville school board members. Burgess said Spearman has gone beyond her authority by canceling a school board election.

This is really troubling. And I don’t understand why the state Department of Education would cancel an election. We believe several things. One, state superintendent Molly Spearman has overreached her powers and it’s already with a Florence Four School Board,” said Burgess.

He added the board is seriously considering taking action against Spearman and the state.

"We simply are trying to get the board to come together to authorize research into entities counsel that we can engage to challenge Molly Spearman. To challenge the state of South Carolina. Because we believe that she has caused a lot of confusion In Florence 4. When it comes to who has done what. We believe that she does not have the best interest of the taxpayers or the students in mind. We believe that she just can't simply do what she’s doing,” explained Burgess.

S.C. Dept. of Education Chief Communications Director Ryan Brown said, "Since the SCDE is managing Florence School District Four under authority granted to the State Superintendent of Education by the General Assembly, the SCDE has assumed the responsibilities that would generally carried out by the school board, and while the school board in Florence Four remains and elected body, they have no decision making authority in the district."

Brown provided several South Carolina Code of Laws to support SCDE's authority to be involved with school board elections, as it pertains to the Timmonsville school district, including Section 59-19-315 which deals with the "commencement of trustee's term of office."

Some community members said they don't understand what's the big deal because the district is consolidating with Florence One Schools next July.

Brown said Timmonsville will have representation on the Florence One Board of Trustees."Florence Four’s Board of Trustees is a publicly elected body and will remain so until the consolidation into Florence One is complete (July 2022). The district lines of Florence One and Florence Four will be redrawn based on new census data and seats on the Florence One Board will include Timmonsville to ensure voter representation.

This is the same process that occurs during any consolidation (Clarendon, Hampton, Bamberg, Barnwell, Orangeburg, Marion, etc. are all recent examples).