CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) – Four members of the Charleston County School District Board of Trustees addressed recent actions taken by the board which included placing the district’s newly hired superintendent on paid administrative leave.
Courtney Waters, Dr. Carol Tempel, Darlene Dunmeyer-Roberson, and Daron Lee Calhoun II said in a press release that those actions, taken by other members of the school board, are “unconscionable and must be addressed.”
The school board voted 5-4 last Monday to place Dr. Eric Gallien on paid administrative leave. It was a move that many said lacked transparency. An attorney representing Dr. Gallien told News 2 that the general counsel placed a personnel issue on the agenda for executive session days before without the superintendent’s knowledge. Many fellow board members say they were also left in the dark.
“Last Monday, Board of Trustees members; Carlotte Bailey, Edward Kelley, Keith Grybowski, Leah Whatley and Pamela McKinney caused a week of intense public backlash, confusion and community outrage when they voted to place Superintendent Dr. Eric Gallien on paid administrative leave pending an investigation and provided no reason,” the four board members wrote ahead of Monday afternoon’s news conference.
Dr. Gallien began acting as superintendent in July and was one of the top picks among board members during a nationwide search.
“Additionally, they refused to confirm Michelle Simmons as the permanent Chief Academic Officer, the person responsible for leading the district’s increase in the Spring 2023 test scores,” the board members added. “They also dismantled the Health Advisory Committee by dismissing members whose term limits had not yet expired. All three actions passed 5-4.”
During Monday’s news conference, the four board members called for the repeal of those three decisions and implored all members to explain their reasonings behind each vote.
“I’m not only asking for clarification from our fellow members, but I too am asking for a rescindtion [sic] of the decision that was made last week because I believe it was done outside of the spirit of the role that we are meant to perform here,” Trustee Courtney Waters said during the news conference. “We have to come to the table with community and sit knee-to-knee and explain the motives behind our actions, otherwise we are all left to wonder why these decisions are being made.”
“Over the last seven days, our community, our students, our staff have spoken loud and clear in response to the board’s decisions of last Monday,” Trustee Dunmeyer-Roberson said. “Today, we come together to uplift their voices.”
Pamela McKinney, who serves as board chair, said in a statement Friday evening the board is unable to comment on the specifics of personnel matters during an ongoing investigation, per policy, and that when a complaint or allegation is made about the chief executive leader of CCSD by an employee, “it is incumbent upon the Board to act in the interest of the public, as well as students, staff and teachers by fully investigating the matter, and the Board voted unanimously to do so.”
McKinney says the board was split on whether to place Dr. Gallien on paid administrative leave and she emphasized that the decision was made in full compliance with district policy and HR best practices.
Monday’s decision reignited concerns over the board members’ connections to the Conservative group Moms for Liberty, which some felt has pulled sway over the decision-making.
“These are not voices that are representative of our true constituency at all and they are not elevating real concerns, but they’re actually gaslighting the community to think something is amiss when nothing is actually wrong,” Water said about the group during Monday’s news conference.
The criticism prompted board member Carlotte Bailey to post a video on her Facebook page over the weekend saying “As board members, we need to adhere to the concept of executive session. As a board, we are entrusted to handle sensitive matters which affect people, their families, and their livelihoods. Every discussion should not be a public discussion. How can good decisions be made without healthy discussions. I am very disappointed that on a regular basis, board members leave executive session and will get on social media and media outlets to share discussions and situations which should have stayed in executive session.”
She went on to say, “The situation at hand is simple. The board, being guided by legal counsel, is working hard to make sure everyone is treated fairly and that contracts are being followed and each person being considered for a position has qualifications for that position. Not based on race.”