Charleston County School Superintendent Nancy McGinley sent letters home to county school board members chastising them for wasting her and her staff members’ time.
The district’s top leader sent the notes Friday, the day after a five-hour board workshop that four of the nine board members attended. An apparently frustrated McGinley wrote that the benefit of such gatherings was minimal because of the board’s low and/or sporadic attendance. And the gatherings cost the district hundreds of hours of time, talent and other resources, she wrote.
“This is not an effective way to run this enterprise,” McGinley wrote. “It is nonproductive, unfair to staff and board members, and most importantly, does nothing to make schools more effective for students.”
The tone of her missive didn’t sit well with some board members, and it illustrates the ongoing challenge — and tension — involved in communicating with a diverse and often divided group.
“She was out of line,” said board member Elizabeth Moffly, who has raised similar concerns in the past. “For the four of us who were sitting in that room, it was kind of a slap in the face. It comes off that she doesn’t want to be bothered with us.”
The members of the board changed after the November election, and the new board has asked for more frequent and informal workshops to learn about the district. The board is charged with managing the superintendent, setting district policy and approving a budget.
McGinley asked to end the monthly workshops, saying the same members who may be in attendance at the beginning aren’t there at the end.
District staff can’t ensure all board members get necessary information, and they can’t complete in-depth strategy discussions without a quorum, she said.
She suggested the board instead hold quarterly workshops, and district staff would find new ways to give the board information, such as talking with a designated staff member or providing written documents.
Board member Tom Ducker called the tone of McGinley’s letter inappropriate, but he said she made some good points that are worth addressing. He wasn’t sure what the board would do, but he said it would respond.
Ducker, who was elected in November, said the more frequent workshops have given him important information to be a better board member, and he has ideas for streamlining those gatherings, such as adjusting the time when the board meets.
“Rather than complain, she should work with us on it,” he said. “I don’t want to create divisiveness between the board and the superintendent, and we’ll work to avoid that. I understand that she was frustrated. Now, how do we turn that into something positive, which is where we’re going to go from here.”
Board member Michael Miller also said McGinley’s note didn’t go over well with him, but he said he could understand her frustration.
Miller said he tries to balance his board responsibilities with his professional and personal ones; he’s married, has a 4-year-old daughter and runs a small business. He can’t always attend the gatherings, but he doesn’t want to see fewer workshops. He suggested those meetings could be shorter or at different times.
“It’s something we need to look at,” he said. “But to end them wouldn’t be beneficial to new board members.”
Board Chairwoman Cindy Bohn Coats said she wished the superintendent’s letter would’ve used more periods and the “delete” key, but she’s not upset the superintendent expressed how she felt. She’s glad the superintendent is passionate, and she’d rather have a leader who felt strongly about protecting her staff than someone who doesn’t care, she said.
“It doesn’t mean because she feels a certain way I have to feel the same way,” Coats said. “No one is infallible in communication.”
The actions of some board members, specifically their absence from workshops, have made it clear the board needs to discuss how it can make those gatherings work, she said.