Originally created 02/04/05

Howe School's fate is up in air



AIKEN - The John de la Howe School may soon answer to a different batch of bosses if a plan from Gov. Mark Sanford passes the state Legislature.

State education officials said the shift might not be the best way to run the school.

Citing a $70,000-per-child price tag, Mr. Sanford slated the school for closure last year, proposing that pupils be shifted to Wil Lou Gray Opportunity School, an alternative school for teenagers in West Columbia.

But in his proposed budget for this year, the school is one of a half-dozen institutions in the Palmetto State that would be placed under the state Department of Education.

"We think that there are ways to work with this school," Will Folks, Mr. Sanford's spokesman, said Thursday. "With this administrative shift, it may be more likely to make it through the legislative process" without additional funding cuts.

Built in 1797 to educate the poor, the school now serves about 90 pupils in grades four through 12 who are considered at risk of not graduating high school or who are behind in course work.

The school also has anger management and grief counseling programs and seminars for parents.

One of the school's biggest advocates has been state Sen. Tommy Moore, D-Clearwater. He doesn't like the governor's plan.

"Their mission is not just education there. I think the proof is in their 50 years of service," he said. "I don't think transferring it (to the Education Department) is a good idea."

For example, when administrative duties at the governor's schools for the arts and humanities and science and mathematics were handed over to the Education Department five years ago, no additional staff members or money came with them, said Jim Foster, an Education Department spokesman.

He said John de la Howe would likely suffer a similar fate. The Education Department was forced to ax 39 positions last year because of state budget cuts. John de la Howe already is scaling back some of its programs to save money, said Tammy Hill, a spokeswoman for the school.

For example, it used to bring pupils' parents in on the weekend so they could go through training sessions.

Those have been shortened to one-day seminars, saving the school money on food and lodging costs.

"I think there has been a tremendous effort to maximize efficiency," Mr. Moore said. "Yes, they can be more efficient in some areas, but I think members of the Legislature need to spend more time looking at what the school does."

The senator is leading a nine-member committee set up last fall to look at the school's track record and ways to slash spending.

The group met twice, but its first meeting in 2005 was canceled after committee member James Strom was killed in a single-engine plane crash Jan. 7.

Reach Karen Ethridge at (803) 648-1395, ext. 109, or karen.ethridge@augustachronicle.com

What's next:

Gov. Mark Sanford will appoint a new member to the study committee for the John de la Howe School before another meeting will be scheduled. When the committee completes its study, its report will be presented to the Legislature, probably this spring.