Outbursts end silence about district’s SLED investigation
The Berkeley County School Board meeting on May 14 got a little rowdy.
While new Berkeley County School Board Chairman Kent Murray commended the board for adhering to the state’s request that board members not publically comment on SLED’s investigation into the district’s alleged improper promoting of the Yes 4 Schools bond referendum last year, comments and some outbursts found its way into the meeting at Berkeley Intermediate School.
With more than 200 people in attendance, outgoing board chairman Doug Cooper complimented BCSD staff for its hard work and dedication in getting the referendum passed. Cooper said that BCSD employees “acted in good faith” during the Yes 4 Schools campaign last fall.
“A small group of disgruntled opponents with their own personal and political agenda would like you to think otherwise,” he said. “I know only of selfless sacrifices that our employees made and continue to make each day, all while being persecuted in the media.”
Voters approved the $198 million referendum by a 2-to-1 ratio in November but charges of ethics violations led by Charleston attorney Josh Whitley resulted in the ongoing SLED investigation into misconduct by BSCD staff.
The standing room only crowd erupted in a sustained applause for Cooper’s remarks and as a show of support for district staff. Many in attendance wore badges expressing their support for Berkeley County Schools.
But critics of the district also made their presence known. A total of eight speakers addressed the board during the public comments portion of the meeting that lasted almost 40 minutes, and several criticized school board’s decision to pay for attorney representation for district employees under investigation.
Nancy Corbin of Ridgeville said the board was being hypocritical.
“I think the most important thing we can teach our children is to live within the rules, and how you can enforce rules when you don’t live by rules is a mystery to me,” she said. “What was done by this district was wrong.”
Linda Riney from Cross said the district has sent the children of Berkeley County the wrong message.
“To be completely silly and beyond the envelope, if you are doing your job but running a bookie joint, you are not acting in good faith,” Riney said. “Do we teach our children that the end justifies the means? No, we don’t. That’s not teaching the children honesty and integrity and character, and to me, that is the biggest scandal of all.”
Also during the public comments portion of the meeting, when Jeff Reuer of Summerville asked for those who objected to the district’s handling of the $198 million bond referendum and contacted their school board representative to voice this objection to stand, about a dozen people did so, including Whitley.
Cooper spoke again.
“Just to clarify so there is no misrepresentation of facts, when Mr. Reuer asked for those who had contacted their school board representatives to stand, I saw that Josh Whitley stood and as his school board representative I can attest that Mr. Whitley never contacted me about this matter,” Cooper said.
Other board remarks referring to the SLED investigation came from Phillip Obie who declined to give Superintendent Rodney Thompson an excellent job performance rating pending the outcome of the ongoing investigation.
“Until the results of the investigation are in I rate Mr. Thompson’s performance as satisfactory,” Obie said.
Scott Marino, Whitley’s brother-in-law, also mentioned the investigation in his remarks.
“We are now paying for three criminal attorneys that are being paid for with tax dollars; this is embarrassing,” he said. “I do not have any confidence in the superintendent’s fiscal management ability and will work in my years of service on the board as a watchdog.”
Marino gave Thompson a highly unsatisfactory rating and closed his evaluation by objecting to the four-percent raise and one-year contract extension, “With the ongoing investigation we don’t know what the outcome will be, so if we go ahead and extend his contract, I’m not sure that’s sending the right message,” Marino said.
Cooper replied by saying there is a clause in the superintendent’s contract that gives the school board the right to terminate employment in the event of criminal conviction. “So there’s minimal risk,” he said.