The Beaufort County school board selected finalists Wednesday for the district's top post behind closed doors and declined to release their names until the applicants agree to participate in another round of interviews with the board.
District officials said residents will get a chance to meet the finalists for the superintendent's job at televised forums next week. Finalists also will meet with district teachers, administrators and school staff to answer their questions, according to Board of Education Chairman Bill Evans.
Jay Bender, attorney for the S.C. Press Association and a freedom of information expert, said state law allows school boards to discuss applicants in private, but must vote in public to narrow the list of candidates.
"If the list of applicants is narrowed at any time without a public vote, that is illegal," Bender said.
The only actions that can be taken in closed session are to adjourn or return to public session. The law also prohibits informal polling in executive session, Bender said.
Board chairman Bill Evans said the board didn't break the law by winnowig the list in private because it never voted on the finalists.
Whether the board took a vote does not matter, according to Bender.
"They narrowed the list and they cannot legally do that in executive session," he said.
Evans would not say how many finalists the board selected, and said it would not release the names of those finalists who decline to participate in more interviews.
"It would be foolish to say we settled on four, but only three (accept)," Evans said. "... You'd want to know who the fourth person was. But we couldn't release that name because they didn't accept and expect their name to be confidential."
Not releasing the names of all finalists violates a 2007 S.C. Supreme Court ruling that says the public is entitled to see all materials collected for persons under final consideration -- whether they choose to participate in further interviews or not -- according to Bender.
An attempt Wednesday night to reach Laura Bush, chairwoman of the board's search committee, was unsuccessful.
Ray and Associates, an Iowa-based firm hired by the Board, presented the board with 11 candidates for its consideration after conducting background checks on the 122 who applied to the position.
The board last week then winnowed the list to seven semi-finalists they interviewed in private this week.
The school district's former superintendent, Valerie Truesdale, retired in October and accepted a senior position in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District.
Jackie Rosswurm, the district's human resources chief, has been serving as acting superintendent. She did not apply for the superintendent's position.
The board hopes to hire a new superintendent by early March, Evans said.