School board tightens nepotism policy

The Beaufort County Board of Education voted Tuesday to strengthen a policy that deters favoritism to relatives of senior staff.

The change to its nepotism policy, adopted 10-1, requires the superintendent to disclose when relatives of certain employees are offered jobs with contractors that provide services to the district.

"It increases transparency to the public and it increases our ability to protect the school district," said board vice chairman Bob Arundell.

Before the change, the board was informed when immediate family members of the superintendent, executive leadership or principals were recommended for administrative-level or general contracting positions.

The board expanded the policy to require it be informed when immediate family members of the superintendent, chief operational services officer, facilities officer, procurement personnel or any employee initiating a district contract is offered a job with a major contracted service or construction vendor.

The board's vote requires a clause be added to contracts to reflect the change. District administration also agreed to amend its employee manual to ensure potential conflicts of interest are known.

Those amendments include:

  • It should be immediately reported to the superintendent if an immediate family member of certain employees involved in contracting is offered a job with a current contractor or a contractor that submits a bid to the district.
  • Executive leadership and personnel involved in contracting should complete an annual statement of economic interest, which must be submitted to the superintendent.
  • Board member Jim Bequette requested the change to the nepotism policy and said he learned as a former comptroller with Westinghouse the importance of keeping a close watch over contracts to be sure they were awarded and managed fairly. He said rumors have circulated alleging that hasn't always happened in the school district.

    The district, which has about 20,000 students, outsources many services, including food service, building and grounds maintenance, and custodial service. Some of the contracts are worth millions. The bus transportation contract, for example, totals $4.2 million.

    Board member Laura Bush voted against amending the policy. She said it wasn't clear about the board's obligations if a conflict is brought to its attention, especially if a contractor has already been recommended for hire.

    "What do we do?" she asked. "Do we pull the contract?"

    Arundell said the policy change doesn't mean a firm that employs relatives of district staff would be prevented from winning district contracts. But, he said, notification of the possible conflict allows the board to evaluate each situation individually and make the best decision.