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FDTC attorneys say college is facing a bump in the road, nothing more

Florence Darlington Technical College (WPDE file)

Attorneys with Willcox, Buyck and Williams, P.A. of Florence said the situation Florence Darlington Technical College (FDTC) is facing with owing nearly $1.7 million to the federal government isn't a reflection of the school's financial solvency, but rather a bump in the road.

ABC 15 News first told you FDTC has to pay back $1,661,939 to the U.S. Department of Education following a review of FDTC's Title IV programs, for not being compliant with federal student aid, according to officials with the U.S. Department of Education.

Officials said the U.S. Education Department issued a Final Program Review Determination (FPRD) on Dec. 18 to FDTC’s President Ben Dillard.

The FRPD represents the department's findings and conclusions stemming from a program review or audit initiated at FDTC in March 2016 and incorporating the institution's responses to the department's May 2016 program review report.

Attorney Mark Buyck, III said the college hadn't been audited in more than 20 years and wasn't the only higher education institution that was audited from the U.S. Department of Education.

"They're not the only school. Greenville also got audited. I think Spartanburg. And it was just Tech's turn," said Buyck.

The audit found the school wasn't in compliance with federal student financial aid regulations.

"When the Dept. of Education came in, they did their review. They determined that there was about $1.6 million in funds that students had received for classes that students ended up dropping. Or not attending. It was money that went to the students that the federal government said shouldn't have gone to students. And the school should have done more to recapture those funds," said Buyck.

Buyck said the college will repay the money over three years. He said it's also implemented new practices that shouldn't allow the mistake to happen again.

Florence Darlington Tech has changed the process where they identified these students. And it's all electronic now. And they're working also with the S.C. Department of Revenue that in the event this happens in the future. That students, whether going straight to the students to get repaid. Their tax returns will be. The money will come from the tax returns of the students. They've changed the process and it shouldn't happen again in the future. Although, I say there's always going to be a finding of some sort when you have the millions of dollars that come through the college each year. Through federal funds to the students. It was an honest mistake, it was. But it's a mistake that happens. You know. There's always going to be a finding when you're dealing with that much federal money. And it's again, the program, the Department of Education, they come in. And they identified some of the weaknesses that existed in the program. They say to the institution, to the school. You should consider adopting this better practice. And the school has adopted the better practices that were recommended by the Dept. of Education.

FDTC President Dr. Ben Dillard said during his annual "State of the School" address on Feb. 9, the school may have to cut some part time positions to save money.

Many FDTC employees have questioned eliminating part time positions; many would prefer to cut and trim salaries of college administrators.

FDTC Board member Hood Temple said Dillard sent him an email showing the employee made $230,000 from 2014 through the beginning of 2018 working two days a month and teaching a leadership class for staff.

He said Dillard's email for the employee's new agreement for this year shows he'll get paid $2,000 a day from August through May for working four days per month. That comes to $80,000.

The employee wasn't working under a contract, but an agreement, according to the email. Temple said he's learned the employee has since resigned.

The board didn't know about this part time employee's position, Temple said, and it violated the S.C. Procurement Code, which requires a bidding process.

Temple also provided us with an email that showed the college paid $46,318.20 to 13 people who spoke on leadership between 2014 and 2016.

Buyck said if college administrators decide to cut some part time positions due to the bill it owes to the federal government, it won't impact any student programs.

"If some part time positions are cut, there may be more full time positions added. They're different ways that repaying these funds can be dealt with. One being, it's stretched out over three years. It's not an immediate hit on the budget of the full amount," explained Buyck.

He added the school is in good financial shape at this time.

"The school is in good shape. I mean, even $1.6 million is a lot, but it's going to be paid back over three years. And the school, I'm not sure what the complete budget is every year, but it gets $40 million a year from the State of South Carolina. So, while $1.6 million is a lot of money, spread out over 3 years and the studnets who attend they won't feel that in any way. And the school is also expanding. The project in Lake City is gonna be huge. That in and of itself is close to a $30 million project there. The programs are there. The programs are vibrant. The school works. The school is prospering. And it'll do fine. This is a bump in the road. I'm not gonna say it's gonna bounce back because I don't think they really, they hit one little pot hole that they're gonna take care of. And the school's fine," explained Buyck.

Buyck also addressed the State Law Enforcement Division's (SLED) inquiry into misappropriation of funds at the college.

"It's an inquiry. It's out there. I think it's unfortunate that it's out there, but I fully expect that there's not gonna be anything that comes from it."

FDTC County Commission, commonly referred to as board members, will hold a called meeting on Thursday at 6 p.m., at the Southeastern Institute of Manufacturing and Technology’s (SiMT’s) Executive Board Room, according to an agenda.

The agenda says the board will go into executive session to discuss contract and personnel matters.

It says the board will go into open session following executive session.

We'll let you know what stems from that called meeting.

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