School consolidation and safety discussed at municipal supper

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer,

Government officials from Darlington County and the municipalities of Lamar, Society Hill, Darlington, and Hartsville joined with representatives of the Darlington County School District and South Carolina state legislators to discuss current events and future plans at the quarterly City/County Supper, hosted by the Town of Lamar Aug. 31 at Bernard’s Tavern.

Dr. Eddie Ingram, superintendant of Darlington County Schools, spoke on the possibility of closing one of Lamar’s two elementary schools due to costly needed repairs. He noted that a recent survey distributed to parents of Lamar students revealed that about 90-percent endorse contracting to one elementary school, and they want to keep Spaulding Middle School open.

“Now the discussion would have to be, do you want a new school? Or do you want to renovate the existing school to make it look as new as possible?” said Ingram, adding that similar discussions will soon begin for Cain Elementary and Brunson-Dargan Elementary in Darlington.

Ingram invited anyone seeking more information to examine the district’s 2012 facilities study (available online at and to attend upcoming community meetings to discuss possible downsizing. He explained that DCSD has 23 campuses and about 10,000 students, while some school districts have double that amount of students attending only 28 campuses.

“We probably have too many campuses and we have to face the reality of dealing with that,” Ingram said. “Every time we put a roof on a school, it’s a million dollars.”

On a positive note, Ingram lauded a long-planned dual degree program that will award six to eight 2016 graduates with both their high school diploma and a two-year degree from Florence-Darlington Technical College.

DCSD School Board chair Connell Delaine spoke on the distict’s near-term priorities, noting that campus safety is a chief concern, along with employee performance and job satisfaction, and keeping up the appearance of school buildings and grounds.

Darlington Mayor Tony Watkins acknowledged that this would be his last appearance as mayor at one of these functions. He took the opportunity to thank Darlington County for aiding the city’s growth by nullifying a quit-claim deed on the Coleman Block Building (a key to the $8 million downtown commercial/residential renovation project) several years ago, and more recently ceding custody of Patience Street to clear the way for construction of a Wal-Mart on South Main Street.

Watkins also suggested to other councils that they charge one member with learning and enforcing Robert’s Rules of Order to encourage professional conduct and smooth operation of public meetings.

Hartsville Mayor Pro Tem Johnny Andrews tipped his hat to the re-opening of Burry Bookstore, a 40-year Hartsville institution now under new ownership, and encouraged people to shop local for their new and used book needs. He also noted the opening of two new hotels, the large Hampton Inn on Fourth Street and boutique hotel Mantissa Inn on East Carolina Avenue, and the newly remodeled Indigo Salon and Day Spa on East Home Avenue.

“I salute everybody’s progress,” said Andrews. “I think what’s good for any town and any community is good for the whole county.”

Society Hill Mayor Pro Tem Denise Douglas said her town’s budget and financial troubles are beginning to improve, and she thanked Mayor Tommy Bradshaw for all his hard work on these issues. Douglas added special thanks to the City of Darlington and the Town of Lamar for their assistance.

State Senator Kevin Johnson (District 36) spoke on this year’s unusual legislative session, observing that South Carolina’s two major accomplishments both resulted from tragedies. Johnson noted that funding the purchase of body cameras for police only became a priority after the shooting of Walter Scott in North Charleston, and removing the Confederate flag from the State House grounds only happened after nine Charleston churchgoers died in a racially motivated shooting spree.

Johnson added that the House and Senate failed to pass a comprehensive highway bill again this session and wondered what it will take to push that legislation through.

“We in the General Assembly always say that our number one priority are our highways and roads and bridges. We didn’t get it done last year, and I’m hoping that it won’t take a tragedy before we can get that done,” Johnson said.

Johnson noted that the State Supreme Court decision on school funding inequities will need to be addressed, and he added a hope that the General Assembly will pass an ethics bill next year – though he expressed skepticism about whether any of these moves will really happen.
“I’m afraid because next year is an election year and for some reason, some people don’t want to make tough decisions during an election year,” said Johnson.

Author: Duane Childers

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