Ex-Riverview director amends lawsuit against school

The first director of Riverview Charter School has accused her former employers of luring her to Beaufort with false promises, misrepresenting her responsibilities and firing her without cause, according to an amended lawsuit filed this month.

Eleanore Bednarsh and her husband, Gary, are suing in the Court of Common Pleas of the 14th Judicial Circuit for 20 causes, including fraud, defamation, civil conspiracy and breach of contract.

The suit, filed Oct. 14, lists the Beaufort County School District and Riverview Charter School as defendants, as well as several current and former members of the Riverview board of directors and a school district liaison to the school.

The school district stands by a statement issued in September, after an earlier version of the suit was filed, saying it is not directly involved in the matter, according to Jennifer Staton, district risk manager. The district never employed Bednarsh, never supervised her employment and did not fire her, the statement said.

The district is Riverview's sponsor, but charter schools can hire their own employees.

Bednarsh was hired in April 2009 at an annual salary of $90,000. She was fired the following December after Riverview officials said she didn't meet performance goals. She did not receive severance pay.

Bednarsh and her family moved to Beaufort from New York City last year so she could serve as Riverview's director, according to court documents. She had worked more than 25 years at New York private schools.

The lawsuit claims the Riverview board never intended to retain Bednarsh as a permanent director or honor her three-year contract. It says the school only hired her to stick to its schedule for opening and to ensure it received a charter from the Beaufort County Board of Education on time. Riverview then contrived a reason to fire Bednarsh so the position could be given to a member of the 41-person charter committee that planned the school, according to the suit.

The lawsuit does not name the committee member nor explain why the member was not hired to lead the school initially. J. Olin McDougall, one of Bednarsh's lawyers, would not elaborate on the claim or discuss evidence supporting it. A. Parker Barnes, another lawyer for Bednarsh, also declined comment. Both attorneys work in Beaufort.

Riverview's current director, Eileen Williams, is a member of the original charter committee. The retired school superintendent from Massachusetts has been leading the school since June.

Williams served as interim director after Bednarsh was fired. Wendy Randle was hired to fill the position in April but resigned for personal reasons after less than a month. Williams has been the school's director since then.

Bednarsh's lawsuit also claims:

  • The Riverview board did not truthfully represent the requirements of her position and added tasks to her workload. For example, the board initially told Bednarsh she would not need a South Carolina teaching certificate. She later learned she needed certification to use a state system for teacher evaluations.
  • Bednarsh received inadequate assistance from the Riverview board, which gave her inconsistent and ambiguous direction.
  • The county school district provided minimal assistance to Bednarsh and withheld information she needed.
  • The chairwoman of the Riverview board made false statements about Bednarsh, including to The Beaufort Gazette and through e-mails to students' parents. The statements have harmed Bednarsh's professional reputation and ability to work in education elsewhere.
  • Bednarsh's lawyers first filed papers in March to preserve and gather evidence that could be used in a civil lawsuit. An offer to Riverview in June to settle the dispute for $242,000 was not accepted, according to court filings.