School board to discuss superintendent's 6-month evaluation behind closed doors

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comFebruary 3, 2014 

Beaufort County Schools Superintendent Jeffrey Moss

DELAYNA EARLEY — Staff photo Buy Photo

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The superintendent works for the board of education. And the board of education, in a manner of speaking, works for the public.

Which raises the question: Should the superintendent's evaluation be conducted behind closed doors, out of public view?

The Beaufort County Board of Education will try to be as open as possible as it completes superintendent Jeffrey Moss' six-month evaluation, Chairman Bill Evans said.

But first, the Ad Hoc Superintendent Evaluation Committee met in closed session Monday to conduct Moss' evaluation, according to the meeting agenda. The full board plans to make its final review public, with an executive summary to be released at its regular meeting Tuesday, Evans said. School board members also will be able to voice additional comments or opinions, according to committee Chairman Jim Beckert.

Closed-door discussions of personnel matters are allowed under the S.C. Freedom of Information Act. The Beaufort County School District has typically met in closed session to discuss a superintendent's performance, then made some portion of the evaluation public, Evans said.

"This evaluation is part of the district's contract with Dr. Moss," Evans said. "So I think we are permitted under the law to discuss contracts in closed session."

However, that doesn't mean the board is required to do so, said Debbie Elmore, director of communications for the S.C. School Boards Association. The process each board uses to evaluate its superintendent is different and left up to the individual school boards, Elmore said.

In Jasper County, the evaluation of embattled superintendent Vashti Washington was conducted in a closed session in December. Despite recent calls for her job from some parents and two consecutive years of failing grades on federal accountability standards, Washington received a one-year extension on her $165,000-a-year contract. The board also agreed to increase its contribution to her annuity from 9 percent of her salary to 12 percent.

Following the meeting, both Washington and board chairwoman Berty Riley refused comment. No written report explaining the board's decision was offered to the public after the meeting.

The district's attorney, Ken Childs, of Columbia-based law firm Childs & Halligan, said the board did not fill out any forms in its evaluation of Washington, but had a "general discussion."

The board once filled out evaluation forms, but that practice stopped, according to Childs, because: "Having the evaluation forms resulted in (Freedom of Information Act) demands for the forms, and that became embarrassing for the superintendents, so they don't have forms anymore."

Childs' firm also represents the Beaufort County district and board.

Beaufort County's board will be forthcoming about its evaluation of Moss, Evans said. "The end result will certainly be made public to everybody. It was never our intent to hold that back from the public."

Evans said this is the first time the board has conducted a six-month review of a new superintendent. Unlike the annual review, this evaluation will have no bearing on Moss' contract or salary, Beckert added.

Moss said he asked for such a six-month review, which will focus mostly on the 90-day plan he started with the new job, work with school improvement councils and outreach to the community.

"It's more professional growth for me, I would say, to give me an early indication if I'm going in the direction the board would like to see the district move or if I need to shift directions a little bit," Moss said.

Moss said the evaluation process in Beaufort County schools is different from his experiences in previous districts in North Carolina. This will be the first time any part of his evaluation has been shared publicly, he said.

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