Beaufort County schools superintendent Jeff Moss offered the county Board of Education his resignation after a two-hour closed-door meeting Tuesday night, and the board accepted, capping an end to a turbulent five years with the district and coming amid an ongoing FBI investigation related to the construction of two Bluffton schools, both built during his tenure.
In a 7-4 vote, the board accepted his resignation, which is effective July 31.
According to a news release issued by the district, as part of Moss' separation agreement he will receive one year's salary, which is $220,000, as well as payments for benefits and unused annual and sick leave and $44,000 in an annual retirement contribution that is typically given to him each fall when the board evaluates his performance from the previous school year.
Board member Geri Kinton read the vote aloud through tears. And board member Evva Anderson was visibly upset after adjournment. Both are strong supporters of Moss.
"It's difficult to leave a place when you don't want to leave it," Moss said late Tuesday evening. "But I will truly cherish the relationships I've developed here over the years ... this is the toughest decision I've made in my life."
Four members on the board's minority bloc, who frequently find themselves at odds with Moss and the majority of members, voted against the motion to accept his resignation. Those members were David Striebinger, JoAnn Orischak, John Dowling and Christina Gwozdz. They said they were not against Moss leaving, but because the abrupt news came as a surprise to them Tuesday night they said they needed time to process and absorb the exit package.
"I've had more time to review my cellphone contract" than to review Moss' separation plan, Striebinger said.
Moss' resignation is an about-face from just last month when he assured both the board and principals of his commitment to continue at the helm of the district after the Alabama Board of Education announced he was a semifinalist in its search for the next state superintendent. His application told a different story, one that said “I am under contract until 2020, but would leave earlier for the right position.”
Moss joined the district in 2013 and controversy began about two years later when a newly created, high-paying position at the district office was filled by his wife, a hiring that led to two “inadvertent and unintentional” admissions of guilt by Moss and a fine from the South Carolina Ethics Commission.
Moss’ initial contract spanned through June 30, 2018. However, in 2014, just one year into Moss' tenure, the board extended it through June 30, 2020.
Under his leadership, the district expanded pre-kindergarten, launched a scholarship program with the Technical College of the Lowcountry and saw high school graduation rates increase nearly six percentage points from 2014 to 2017. The number of schools with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) certification has increased and the board began a five-year, phased-in cost of living supplement to recruit and retain teachers.
Moss oversaw the building of two Bluffton schools, River Ridge Academy and May River High School, using an architect he had previously worked with in two North Carolina school districts. The Bluffton schools are currently involved in an FBI investigation. Moss and other district officials maintain that the district is not the target of the investigation.
The public rejected two school bond referendums during his tenure, a narrow failure in 2016 and a historic 72 percent loss in April.
Moss is the second high-level district employee to step down in recent months. In April, Drew Davis, the district's first in-house attorney, hired by Moss, resigned, saying he had another job opportunity but refusing to say where.
"With the personal attacks that he has had since he’s been here, it was not fair to him," board chairman Earl Campbell said. "And I know that wherever he goes he’s gong to do a very good job because of the very good job he’s done with this district."