Fort Mill School Trustees voted unanimously Tuesday to pass on a large Santee Cooper windfall in the form of bonuses to all permanent 2,161 staff members.

   The $150 checks should go out on Dec. 21, funded by $266,508 that the district received from a Santee Cooper Settlement.

   “Just in time for Christmas,” Superintendent Chuck Epps said.

   Chairwoman Kristy Spears said that 2020 has been a tough year, so the bonus is “awesome.”

   Vice Chairwoman Michele Branning made the initial motion to provide the bonuses. “It’s a small amount, but it’s a big amount too,” she said. “I think it has huge meaning and huge impact.”

    The money is a result of a $520 million settlement of a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of Santee Cooper’s approximately 2 million electric customers who paid for the failed construction of the co-op’s V.C. Sumner nuclear power plant in Jenkinsville in 2017.

  The staff members include all permanent full-time and part-time employees, but not substitutes. However, the district has worked on incentives and extra funds for those who are stepping in to help during the pandemic, Dr. Epps said. (Story continues below)

Image from Tuesday’s Night’s meeting, broadcast on the district’s YouTube channel.

   While it’s clear that trustees saw the bonuses as a way to thank staffers for their hard working through the year’s pandemic, how the district will handle the coming months is not as clear.

   Dr. Epps said the district continues to monitor the situation and is watching the numbers increasing.

   “Let’s get to Christmas,” he said. “We have not had to shut a school down for lack of staff.  So that is a good thing. … People ask me: What are we going to do? Well, we’ll know when we know. We will review it every two weeks in January.”

   Ultimately, the plan is to return to full face-to-face instruction in late January. But, Dr. Epps said, “We may have to turn in the other direction.”

   More importantly, the superintendent shared that the district will be participating in the COVID testing of students and staff after the Christmas break. The district is currently developing plans for the process to administer the tests at Catawba Ridge High School’s stadium, with drive-through testing that utilizes the concessions stand.

Under the regulations provided by the state, tests will only be available for students and staff exhibiting symptoms or quarantined as a close/household contact.

Dr. Epps also shared that the district is now following the new guidance from the CDC and SC DHEC regarding shorter quarantine periods.

   Spears said this would allow students who were feeling sick to possibly return to classes sooner if they tested negative instead of waiting longer for testing and results. The school’s tests would be free.

In other news from Tuesday’s meeting:

NATION FORD RECOGNITION: Nation Ford High School was recognized for being named a 2020 National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education. A total of 367 schools were named National Blue Ribbon Schools for 2020 and Nation Ford High School was only one of six schools in South Carolina to receive the designation. The recognition is based on a school’s overall academic performance or progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups. The board recognized Principal Jason Johns and the entire Nation Ford staff for this honor.

HALL OF FAME INDUCTEES: The nominees were presented for the 2020 Fort Mill School District Hall of Fame induction. Nominees are Mrs. Patty Barron, Mr. John DeLoach, Mr. Terry Holliday, Mrs. Susan Palmer and Mr. Bobbie S. Plair. The board voted to approve the recommendations. The induction ceremony will take place at a later date in 2021.

PANDEMIC CHANGES END-OF-COURSE EXAMS: Dr. Michael Waiksnis shared that The State Department of Education (SDE) is granting districts flexibility on weighting of End of Course (EOC) exams on course grades. Typically the state requires that these exams count for 20% of the course grade. However, due to the pandemic, districts are allowed to decide how they want to count the EOC exam grade in the final course grade. EOC exams will count for 10% of the course grade this school year (fall and spring) in our district.

Fort Mill School Board meetings can be viewed live or on demand on the district’s YouTube channel or with the link here:

Greg "Ricky Bobby" Rickabaugh has lived in the Fort Mill and York County community since 2006. He has covered the area while a reporter for The Charlotte Observer and a freelance writer for The Fort Mill...