Clearly, no one wants to see John de la Howe School shutter its doors, not even state Rep. Kenny Bingham. And following Friday's board vote seeking school president Thomas Mayer's resignation, it appears that governing body is squarely behind the school. That is a good thing.
Bingham, chairman of the House Public Education and Special Schools subcommittee, made it clear Tuesday the very people charged with keeping the school operating are the ones who will be to blame if the school closes.
The McCormick County school has a long history of serving the needs of youngsters with behavioral and emotional issues, but that history lately has not been standing the test of time. Tales of mismanagement, exorbitant per-student costs, a lack of quantitative data to ensure effectiveness, an enrollment that is at less than 50 percent capacity are dogging de la Howe's staff and board of trustees.
The board and some staff members last week heard from an angry Bingham, who enumerated concerns the subcommittee has — and has had during the course of the past several years — with the school's operation and how it is using tax dollars to fulfill its purpose and mission.
Mayer was not present for the hearing in Columbia, which came on the heels of a report by the state Inspector General, whose office reviewed the school's management.
Mayer's absence Tuesday did not go unnoticed by Bingham, who questioned the timing of Mayer taking sick leave under the Family Medical Leave Act as Mayer's first day of leave coincided with the day the Inspector General's damning report was issued. He all but accused Mayer of orchestrating an absence in light of the report's findings and even went so far as to suggest the board consider replacing Mayer — and quickly — in an effort to give the school a chance to remain open. Apparently, the board listened and gave Mayer 45 days to resign. More generous than warranted, but a wise step in the right direction to save the school. After all, Mayer's allegiance to de la Howe is on a sandy foundation as it was learned he was and possibly remains one of three finalists to take the lead post at Denmark Technical College.
Bingham pulled no punches last week in addressing de la Howe staff and board members. He made it abundantly clear the school failed to comply with directives handed down the course of the past three years, directives that had dollars accompanying them so they could be carried out. He noted that instead of bringing the school up to full capacity, a move that would make it far more effective and efficient with respect to tax dollars spent, an additional 20 or so staff members were hired.
The list of problems facing de la Howe is extensive and while it might seem unreasonable to some, Bingham gave the board and administration a week to present details for how it will — finally — resolve the problems. Failing that, Bingham offered two options: Shut down temporarily and let another institution meet the children's needs or shut down altogether.
John de la Howe has some very dedicated staff members who truly want to address the needs of the children it serves. Its trustees also appear to want to do what is right, what is best, not only with respect to the children, but also with respect to tax dollar stewardship.
They have precious little time to scramble and prove that is the case by coming up with a substantial plan of action.
That plan correctly includes replacing the captain at the ship's helm. It's not a scene from "Mutiny on the Bounty" as the 45-day notice is hardly a hostile takeover. However, had the board not acted quickly to remove Mayer, another movie would come to mind, "Titanic." In this case, however, there is nothing admirable about the captain going down with the ship.