Berkeley County School District officials broke their silence Tuesday about an investigation into the district’s use of taxpayers’ time and money.
In his last act as board chairman, Doug Cooper reiterated the district’s earlier statement that employees acted in “good faith” during November’s Yes 4 Schools campaign.
“A small group of disgruntled opponents with their own personal and political agenda would like you to think otherwise,” he said.
Voters approved the $198 million referendum by a 60-40 ratio, but charges of ethics violations and misconduct in office led to the investigation.
Cooper said the district has cooperated with the investigation and agreed to maintain the employees’ confidentiality by not discussing them with the public or the media.
“I know only of selfless sacrifices that our employees made and continue to make each day, all while being persecuted in the media,” he said.
The majority of the crowd was in support of Thompson and the district, but Goose Creek resident Rob Williams and others called their compliments a “red herring.”
“For me, it was very intellectually dishonest,” Williams said. “We were not arguing about the validity of the bond referendum. ... The point of all this is not about the content of the campaign. It’s about the misuse of public resources and time in an effort to promote a ‘yes’ vote.”
Williams, who did not speak at the meeting, attended a recent Berkeley County Republican Party meeting where lawyer Josh Whitley presented the paper trail he says shows that the district broke the law during the campaign. Whitley filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the information.
“I find it offensive but understandable that they would rally around the red herring of the bond referendum,” Williams said. Because the documents have been made public, “It’s completely obvious that they can’t argue against the facts, so now they are trying to argue against a point nobody’s trying to make.”
Other members of the Berkeley County Republican Party addressed the board about the district’s actions, including the decision in March to pay for independent lawyers for the employees under investigation.
Among those supporting Thompson and the district were representatives from The Education Foundation/EDGE Career Academies and Trident United Way, both of which partner with the district on programs.
After the public comments, Thompson faced a job performance evaluation in open session, and the board voted to give him an overall rating of “excellent,” a 4 percent pay raise, bringing his annual salary to $163,800, and a one-year extension on his contract to June 30, 2016. Scott Marino and Sheldon Etheridge voted against the motion.
“With the ongoing investigation ... we don’t know what the outcome will be, so if we go ahead and extend his contract, I’m not sure that’s sending the right message,” Marino said. Cooper said Thompson’s contract allows him to be fired under certain circumstances, including criminal conviction.
“So there’s minimal risk,” he said.