Beaufort News

School board to discuss new nepotism policy, Moss' performance

Superintendent Jeff Moss and school district attorney Drew Davis listen during a recent meeting of the Beaufort County School District board.
Superintendent Jeff Moss and school district attorney Drew Davis listen during a recent meeting of the Beaufort County School District board. dearley@islandpacket.com

This story was updated Nov. 8 to accurately paraphrase statements by superintendent Jeff Moss at an Oct. 20 board meeting.

Beaufort County school board members will begin crafting a nepotism policy as early as next week to replace the rule recently changed by Superintendent Jeff Moss.

Residents have been questioning when the board would put a nepotism policy in place since it announced it would do so one month ago in the wake of the Sept. 19 resignation of the superintendent's wife, Darlene Moss, just four days after she started work in a $90,000-salary administrative job. The board has already begun reviewing district hires on a monthly basis, another change it implemented in response to public outcry over the hire, but the board set no deadline for when it would create a new nepotism policy.

Though the full school board has met four times since announcing it would increase oversight of the superintendent, there has been no public discussion of the measures it is putting in place, further eroding some residents' trust in the district.

Joseph Dunkle, co-chairman of the Beaufort County Board of Education's human resources committee, said the planned nepotism policy will be on the agenda of the committee's Oct. 29 meeting.

However, the discussion may be postponed until Nov. 6 or 7, when the full board meets for a two-day work session, according to committee member JoAnn Orischak. Neither agenda is set.

Dunkle, Orischak and other members say they hope to lend clarity to the nepotism rule, which Jeff Moss recently changed to eliminate specific limitations on the hiring of superintendent's relatives.

"We've got a lot of chefs in the kitchen right now," Orischak said. "We need to nail down when this will get discussed.

"Some want something truly comprehensive. Others want something that's simple. Others, I don't know."

Reviewing the district office

The board's reaction to public outrage last month included one direction for Jeff Moss -- to evaluate the necessity of all jobs in his district office.

However, no deadline was set for that work.

While Moss asked the board to place the district's administrative structure on the agenda for its November work sessions, he did not say whether he plans to conduct a comprehensive review of administrative positions to look for potential cuts based on overlap of responsibilities and budget constraints. In the past, he said, the district has accomplished big savings through attrition.

He also noted the district is spending about $490,000 less this year than last on district office expenses.

"I believe it is employee friendly to do as much restructuring through attrition rather than going in and terminating individuals or putting them on reduction in force," Moss said.

Orischak says this method would be fine if the district was flush with cash. However, she said, if next year's proposed budget includes any cuts to classrooms, she would want Moss to conduct a more thorough, immediate review of district staffing.

The lack of a deadline, though, struck a nerve with Richard Bisi, founder of Citizens About Responsible Education.

"Imagine if our teachers gave their students an assignment without a due date?" he asked the board at Tuesday's meeting. "It would be irresponsible."

Since he came on as superintendent in July 2013, Moss has approved the promotions or hires of nearly 70 administrators.

About half of those were positions in the district office or instructional services, including directors of classified staff, personnel, elementary academic assistance, secondary education, career and technology education, and teaching and learning. The district also filled coordinator positions for world language, math, special education, data, guidance, assessment, community service, energy management and school nurses.

Aside from Darlene Moss and district attorney Drew Davis, five of the other 20 new hires -- a principal, assistant principal, school administrator, and directors of secondary education and CATE -- previously worked in North Carolina, where Jeff Moss worked for decades. Only two previously worked with the superintendent. One hire from North Carolina, CATE director Karen Gilbert, would have overseen Darlene Moss as director of innovation.

Two of the staff members who received promotions within the district, elementary academic assistance director Carmen Dillard and Whale Branch High School principal Mona Lise Dickson, served on the interviewing committee that selected Darlene Moss as the final candidate for the job.

Evaluating Jeff Moss

A group of community activists who attended Tuesday's school board meeting once again pressed members to discipline Jeff Moss for his handling of Darlene Moss' controversial hire.

CARE members have repeatedly called for his dismissal, citing everything from his failure to tell the school board he had changed the district's nepotism rule to his denial of any wrongdoing despite the resignation of both his wife and board chairman Bill Evans.

"Why haven't you addressed negative issues that are making a mockery of this district?" Fran Bisi asked the board Tuesday. "... the whole situation is hidden and murky but what we know is his conduct has been seriously prejudicial to the district."

Orischak says a public board discussion on Moss' behavior is unlikely ahead of his annual review in the coming weeks.

"I would imagine when we begin this evaluation process, if it is going to show itself, that's where that conversation would take place. We're actually delving into his performance," said Orischak, adding that she does not plan to raise the issue any sooner. "I knew if there were any concerns, they'd all be on the table then."

CARE member Rebecca Bass said Tuesday a private evaluation doesn't cut it.

"We're not getting any respect, quite frankly, for the fact that we think this is quite serious," she said. "It's not going to go away until the board stands up, expresses their concerns and does something about the lack of trust and appearance of impropriety that are invading this whole situation."

The board's human resources committee plans to begin updating its evaluation tool for Moss at its Oct. 29 meeting, Orischak and Dunkle said.

The board would then begin discussing his performance during its work sessions Nov. 6 and 7.

Last November, Moss' $220,000 a year contract was extended by two years, through 2020.

Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.

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