State threatens to cut district funding over Florence 4 superintendent choice

TIMMONSVILLE, SC (WBTW) – South Carolina’s State Superintendent of Education warned Florence School District Four that if it moves forward with hiring the current front runner as the new superintendent, the district may lose funding.

Florence School District Four school board voted on June 19th to offer the vacant superintended position to Florence County Councilman Alphonso Bradley. The school board’s first choice for superintendent, Dr. Fannie Mason, refused the job in May.

State Superintendent Molly Spearman took over Florence School District Four in 2016 because of poor performance. She claims the school district and board must agree to choose its next superintendent, and the school board does not have Spearman’s permission.

School board chair Lillie Joe said she voted for Alphonso Bradley.

“He has a heart for this district,” explains Joe. “He’s already been employed in this district before. He was my likely candidate.”

Five out of seven board members voted to place Bradley in the most powerful position within the school district.

The state superintendent, however, says the district and the state have to agree on who runs the school district. Spearman cited an agreement signed last year when the state took over Florence School District Four.

She says it “calls for us to mutually agree on the hiring of leadership positions,” and there is no agreement on Bradley taking the position.

The school board chairwoman said Spearman’s reasons for refusing to hire Bradley are unfounded.

“Her (Spearman’s) reasons were ‘no district experience’. But this man has 30 years of district experience,” challenges Joe.

Bradley said he had his first teaching job in the district. He also was the Principal at Johnson Middle School.

“We had a lot of improvement for standardized test scores,” says Bradley. “The State Superintendent [at the time] Robert Nielson wrote a letter to the district and to me pretty much bragging about the success that we had.”

Bradley currently serves as the director for the career center in Florence School District 1. He also serves on the Florence County Council but says that elected position would not interfere with serving as the superintendent.

He says he received his superintendent certification, which holds Spearman’s signature, and he’s almost done with his doctorate.

“There are a lot of things that happen over the summer to prepare a school district to be successful during the school year,” says Bradley. “It’s kind of like we’re running out of time. Hopefully, they [the board and state] will come together and put someone in there permanently. If it’s me, that will be great.”

A spokesperson for the department of education says it hopes to make a decision on who does deserve the superintendent position within the next two weeks.

Superintendent Spearman’s letter to Florence School District Four School Board Chairwoman Lillie Joe is below:

Ms. Joe:

I am responding to your request of a statement regarding the current status of the collaboration between the Florence 4 School District Board and the State Department of Education and State Superintendent.

First of all, I am extremely encouraged by the progress that has been made over the past year in the Timmonsville School District. With the outstanding leadership of Dr. Zona Jefferson, dedication of the teachers and staff, support of the State Department of Education (SDE) staff and coaches, financial assistance of the SDE, hard work of the students and parents, and commitment of the school board to do what is right for students, we have made outstanding progress.

Not only did the students show improvement on their preliminary assessments; but, the district was able to close the books and complete its audit, the retention of teachers and staff is strong, and the overall morale of the district has improved. Working together has certainly paid off!

Now we need to agree on the person who will lead the district to the next level of improvement. I believe it is imperative for us to select an educator who has strong leadership ability, district level experience, an understanding of how district systems must operate, and an enthusiasm and dedication to moving Florence 4 forward.

The Memorandum of Agreement signed last year by the Board and me, calls for us to mutually agree on the hiring of leadership positions.  We successfully agreed on the interim superintendent, principals, district personnel, and on the first selection of the new district superintendent.

Unfortunately, the Board was unable to reach a negotiated contract with that candidate.

We have not reached agreement on a mutual candidate at this time. This decision is extremely important and without mutual agreement, a selection solely by the Board could materially breach our agreement and result in less professional and financial support for the district.

I will continue to work with you and the Board to make sure that the next superintendent will be able to step in and manage the district to ensure continuous improvement of student learning and opportunities.

Thank you for your understanding and patience.

Molly Spearman