Superintendent Jeff Moss appears to be making good on a recent promise to correct what he considers to be false information about the Beaufort County School District.
Less than a month after he said in a school board meeting that he was “not going to sit quietly any longer” as people present misinformation, Moss released an open letter Friday reacting to a flier distributed by a community group, Citizens Advocating Responsible Education.
Richard Bisi, who co-founded CARE in the days after Moss’s wife joined the school district in a new administrative position, has been openly critical of Moss and the school board since news of the hire broke in September. Public outrage by CARE and other residents led to the resignations of Darlene Moss as director of innovation and Bill Evans as chairman of the school board.
Since the nepotism scandal cooled, CARE has continued to speak out against Moss and school board members. This week, Moss took issue with a CARE flier that stated the school district’s performance was “abysmal,” its graduation rates were too low and its graduates were unprepared for the work force.
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Bisi says he gave out the flier while making a presentation to attendees of the Sun City Hilton Head Republican Club meeting on Thursday. He posted another version of the flier on Facebook on Sunday that called the school district’s performance “unimpressive compared to schools across the U.S.”
Moss’s open letter makes more than a dozen arguments against that claim, from citing graduation rate statistics and schools’ recent Palmetto Gold and Silver Awards for student achievement to results of the district’s financial audits.
“It is untruthful and unproductive to ignore the many improvements that have been made in recent years,” Moss wrote in the letter. “To ignore those improvements is an extraordinary disservice to the students and families of Beaufort County — and to the dedicated and hard-working educators who serve them.”
Bisi defended CARE’s stance Sunday that the Beaufort County School District should compare itself to high-performing school districts across the country — not to those just in South Carolina. He noted that financial website WalletHub.com ranked the state 45th in the country in 2015.
In a response to the letter on Facebook, Bisi added that Moss was trying to portray himself as a victim of CARE.
“He should be the moral compass for administrators, teachers, support staff and the 22,000 students. His behavior is quite to the contrary,” Bisi wrote. “He has behaved like a schoolyard bully.”
Read the full letter below:
Superintendent’s open letter to CARE founder Richard Bisi:
“I read with concern a CARE flyer(sic) featuring a variety of statements about the Beaufort County School District that are either incorrect or misleading.
Your flyer states, “Beaufort County Schools have an abysmal record of performance.” A strong statement, to be sure, but also one that is demonstrably false. In fact, student achievement continues to improve by virtually every indicator, as evidenced by:
- Twenty Beaufort County schools earned 2015 Palmetto Gold or Silver awards for student academic achievement. Only four of South Carolina's 82 school districts had more schools to earn awards, and all four have much larger student populations and more schools than Beaufort County.
- Beaufort County School District earned a “Good” rating on its most recent state report card and a “B” on its most recent federal report card. Ninety-three percent of the district's schools met the federal standard.
- Seventy-seven percent of Beaufort County students earned passing grades on 2015 end-ofcourse(sic) exams compared to 60 percent five years ago.
- Our graduating seniors in the Class of 2015 earned a record $30 million in college scholarships, nearly double the amount from $15.9 million five years ago.
- Ninety-seven percent of students completing the district's pre-kindergarten program met or exceeded early childhood national assessment development levels.
- The district's 2015 AdvancED review placed the Beaufort County School District in the Top 10 among South Carolina schools and the Top 10 in the AdvancED network, which includes international rankings. In addition, AdvancED awarded specialized STEM certification to all four district schools that applied, giving the district the most STEM-certified schools in South Carolina.
- Four Beaufort County schools have won Palmetto's Finest awards in the past four years, making our district one of only two in the state to have four winners.
- Okatie Elementary became the first school in state history to earn three top honors in the same year: a National Blue Ribbon School award from the U.S. Department of Education, the 2014 Dick and Tunky Riley Award for the state's top School Improvement Council, and the 2014 Palmetto's Finest award.
The CARE flyer states that the district has “low high school graduation rates.” While I would agree that our on-time high school graduation rate is not where it should be, it is the highest in district history.
- The district's on-time high school graduation rate has improved for five consecutive years.
- Beaufort County's 2015 graduation rate was 78.7 percent, a dramatic improvement over 2010's rate of 61.8 percent.
The CARE flyer states that district graduates are “not ready for college or workplace.” While I believe there is room for improvement, initial statewide testing of all 11" graders in 2015 validated the district as a top-performing school system:
- Beaufort County students outperformed the state in the percentage of students meeting the ACT Readiness Benchmark in all subject areas. In fact, Beaufort County was one of only eight districts testing more than 1,000 students to outperform the state in all four tested subjects.
- Ninety percent of our 11"graders scored high enough on WorkKeys exams to qualify for National Career Readiness Certificates that they can use to apply for jobs anywhere in the nation.
- Beaufort County ranked fifth among the 17 South Carolina districts that tested 1,000 or more students in 2015, and also placed above state and national averages.
- We are dramatically expanding our career and technology courses designed to prepare students for high-paying jobs and industry certifications in rapidly emerging fields.
- We created the new Building a Better Beaufort Scholarship — dubbed B3 – which pays up to two years of tuition costs at the Technical College of the Lowcountry for qualified local high school graduates.
The CARE flyer says one of its “key issues” with the district is the spending of taxpayer money. I agree that this is vitally important and cite the following facts:
- Beaufort County has one of South Carolina's lowest property tax millage rates for school operations at 103.5 (FY 2015-16).
- The school district has fewer employees today than it did five years ago despite dramatic increases in student enrollment.
- According to Moody's Investor's Service, “The district's financial position will remain sound given management's conservative budgeting practices, which include 10-year forecasting, targeted fund balance levels, and the prudent use of General Fund balance for one-time expenditures.” The district’s bond ratings are Aa1 with Moody's and AA with Standard and Poor's.
- Over the past 16 years, the district has not received a negative financial finding in any of its annual independent audits.
- We continue to see millions of dollars in savings from smart financial decisions in recent years, as well as from the installation of cutting-edge technology that conserves electrical power and water. One particularly noteworthy example of a smart decision was last year's refinancing of $91.8 million in bonds that saved taxpayers more than $9 million.
The Beaufort County School District is viewed statewide as one of South Carolina’s most innovative and promising School systems. Beyond the accomplishments already noted above, here are some additional items that are attracting positive statewide attention:
- All of the district's schools are now “schools of choice,” meaning that parents can apply to Send their children to any academic program at any school in the district, regardless of where they live.
- Our expansion of pre-kindergarten classes has nearly eliminated the waiting lists of students who need focused attention, an achievement that played a key role in the district winning the 2015 Champions of Children Award from the Institute for Child Success.
- Our new Connect2Learn program has put a mobile computer in the hands of every student in grades 3-12. Students can take their computers home to continue their learning outside of School, giving them access to programs, files and schoolwork.
- After we dramatically improved and intensified the district's security screening process for school volunteers, the number of volunteers increased from 1,300 last year to more than 5,000 today. That is a strong indicator of our community's increasing support for its schools.
- We are one of only two South Carolina districts to have established a 2.0 minimum GPA requirement for student athletes. Nine out of 10 district athletes have been meeting the standard since it was adopted four years ago.
- A national watchdog organization rated the district's website as the most transparent among South Carolina's 10 largest school districts.
It is untruthful and unproductive to ignore the many improvements that have been made in recent years. To ignore those improvements is an extraordinary disservice to the students and families of Beaufort County — and to the dedicated and hard-working educators who serve them.
Our teachers and staff do an amazing job providing an excellent education to the 22,000 students we serve each day. I will continue to defend their hard work and dedication to our community.”
- Jeff Moss
Superintendent, Beaufort County School District
- Update: School board passes nepotism policy by slim margin, February 2, 2016
- 20 Beaufort County schools earn state recognition, February 23, 2016
- State report cards show progress in Beaufort County schools, November 23, 2015