Letter to the Editor

Letter to the Editor

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The following letter to the editor was submitted to The Manning Times by Maureen Calvo. Letters to the editor are written by readers of The Manning Times and are the opinion of the writer, not The Manning Times. Unsigned letters will not be published.

After happily serving as a special educator in the state of Pennsylvania for 38 years, I retired. A year and a half later, my also-retired husband and I moved to Manning, SC. There is a plethora of things we love about our life here in Manning! Contrary to the hustle and bustle and harried pace of our working years, as empty-nesters and retirees we have ample time to be more actively engaged in local politics and community affairs. On one hand, our involvement has been extremely interesting and enjoyable, but on the other hand, our increased enlightenment has often been disconcerting to say the least. Most recently, I took notice to Senator Johnson’s letter to the editor defending our county superintendent’s salary. From an educator’s first-hand perspective,
I am keenly aware the job of Superintendent is extremely demanding and requires the highest level of skill, integrity, responsibility, accountability, dedication, and professionalism. Furthermore, I believe wholeheartedly a superintendent’s salary should be commensurate with their skill set, subject to annual performance-based evaluations, and aligned with budgetary constraints. However, as a concerned, tax paying citizen advocating for integrity, accountability, transparency on all level of governmental affairs, I feel the need to submit this rebuttal to Senator Johnson’s letter.

Comparitively speaking Senator Johnson, in the case of Dr. Bain vs. Dr. Johnson, you stated the latter is making $9,000 more that Dr. Bain. However, when you deduct $6,000 from Bain’s base salary needed to cover the average cost of health insurance, -a benefit she was not provided as a 1099 employee - approximately $6,000 would have to be deducted from Dr. Bain’s salary, so Dr. Johnson is actually making $15,000 more than her. Dr. Bain also did not receive a housing allowance like Dr. Johnson did at that time. Perhaps it’s common, but admittedly up until now, I’ve never heard of a su- perintendent being given a housing allowance. I understand travel, phone, dues, conference fees, and such. These benefits are standard for most super- intendents, but housing? I have no issue as to where the superintendent lives as long as living outside the district or county does not affect performance. My issue is taxpayer’s money being used to subsidize housing in particular when a significant raise in salary would help to offset the need for such an allowance. Based on the 2022-2023 General bud- get Fund I examined, it was not clear as to weath- er or not Dr. Johnson was still receiving this benefit.

As far as the “out- cry” for the financial status for District 4, based on what I know from paying attention to local affairs, that status was due to issues with District 1, and people have shared with me that “everyone would still like answers” as to why that audit is still not complete. You also men- tioned that Dr. Johnson has had to deal with the school district taking back oversight of F.E. DuBose Career Center. The district undoubtedly got hit with additional managerial and financial responsibilities as a result of this merger, most significant of which is absorbing the salaries and benefits of the DuBose staff. For example, and only because I am familiar with her as our District 64 Representative, I took notice to Kimberly Johnson’s appointment by CCTC as the Assistant Director of F.E. DuBose back in the December of 2021. I was a bit surprised by the fact that her salary as per contract under the school district was $12,000 more than her salary paid by CCTC just six month prior. That’s a significant increase, and she is the only one of several other teachers and administrators previously paid by CCTC who are now under contract with the school district. As a former teacher, I strongly support fair compensation for all educators. However, I have also seen how excessive spending on administrative salaries could be better spent on things that directly benefit the students. In light of the raise given to Assistant Director Johnson, I assume it is a very demanding position. As a former special educator, department chair, case manager, advisor, and teacher mentor, I know first-hand how challenging it can be to juggle many hats. Subsequently, I wonder how the demands of the A.D. position at DuBose with its 240 days attendance requirement might impact and/or conflict with Miss Johnson’s duties as a district representative.

You offered justification of Dr. Johnson’s salary by saying you don’t “necessarily have a problem with these salaries because in both cases the board unanimously approved the salaries and benefits of the Superintendents.” I suppose one could say the same in regard to Miss Johnson’s, or any district employees, salary. I need to ask though: Is this the same board that you appointed and who has yet to fully explain the “oversight” made on the monthly stipend paid to members exceeding the $450 monthly allotment by almost $2,000? Who is going to make them accountable for following through with the plan to pay back the excess stipend they were erroneously paid? Moreover, isn’t this the same board who executed two budget reading and approvals without anyone catching the line item for health and life insurance for the board memebers that could have cost the taxpayers almost a million dollars? The same board shut your constituents down by stating “We are not taking any questions tonight, only statements” when community members who were made aware of their egregious “errors” came forward to ask questions at a subsequent board meeting. Was this the same board of education who neglected to notice that Dr. Johnson had not paid months of rent while he continued to live in the house the district bought as part of the 7.6 million dollar grant from a state program intended to help rural school districts recruit teachers? As reported by the Post and Courier, “They then waited until six months after Johnson said he had moved out to charge him rent. They then also gave Dr. Johnson, whose salary at the time was almost $145,000, a monthly housing allowance and made it retroactive. That essentially gave him an extra payment larger than his debt to the district.... It’s an example of how school districts in South Carolina are afforded wide latitude in their ac- tions and often go unscru- tinized, even as they are entrusted with vast sums of public money. (August 7, 2021).”

Senator Johnson, I agree wholeheartedly that it would be wonderful for Clarendon County to be “Unified as One - Educating and Empowering Students.” The administrators, teachers, and staff undoubtedly are doing their very best to serve the children of Clarendon and I have no doubt that good things are happening! I will give credit where credit is due. That said, I speak for all taxpaying citizens by emphasizing that we entrust our school and local officials with our money, including the $41,000,000 renovation project allot- ted by the South Carolina Department of Education as part of the Clarendon County consolidation. It is not my natural tendency to “nitpick”, but like many others, I am just frustrated and tired of feeling “gaslighted” with half-truths or shut down when things are questioned because they are perceived as shady, irrational, excessive, or unethical. All we ask for is certainty that the management and utilization of our tax dollars be handled with the highest level of scrutiny and aligned with the ideals of accountability, integrity, respect, and full transparency. If that cannot be achieved, it is time for a change!

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