Dorchester District 2 school board acted illegally when it decided late Monday after a lengthy closed-door session that Superintendent Joe Pye’s job performance “exceeds expectations,” according to the S.C. Press Association.

“On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being illegal in all regards, it’s a 9.5,” said association lawyer Jay Bender. “It might even be a 10 because it appears that there was some decision made in executive session.”

Bender said there were several areas in which the board violated the state Freedom of Information Act:

The evaluation was not listed on the agenda.

It was done in closed session.

It appears the board voted in closed session.

The agenda for the meeting, which lasted more than 5½ hours, included “Superintendent’s Contract” under the items to be discussed in executive session. During the closed-door session, the board also discussed negotiations for several properties in connection with its building program.

After the executive session, board Chairwoman Gail Hughes said, “We had the superintendent’s evaluation and after a lengthy discussion, we are pleased to say that he has received an ‘exceeds expectations’ review.”

The motion to go into executive session didn’t represent what the board did in the closed session, Press Association Executive Director Bill Rogers said.

Hughes said Tuesday that she intended to have Pye’s evaluation for last year when she added “Superintendent’s Contract” to the night’s agenda.

“I considered it one and the same,” she said.

Hughes, who was elected board chairwoman in January, said she is concerned about Pye’s contract and the lack of a paper trail documenting raises and extensions since it was written on July 1, 2002.

“There’s no follow-up paperwork that relates to his adjustments,” she said. “We can’t go back but we can straighten it out and make sure that going forward everything is notated on a yearly basis.”

Monday’s evaluation was done orally, with no written notes, Hughes said. The process has been used by the district for several years.

The board plans to discuss a letter about the evaluation at its next meeting, which is Aug. 26. Pye, 65, currently makes $167,123 annually and has two years left on his contract. His contract calls for a one-year extension and cost-of-living raise, which this year is 2 percent, if he has a favorable review.

The evaluation method “skirts the intent of the law,” Rogers said. “‘The public has no way of knowing the details of the evaluation. ...I would think the fact that they didn’t vote in public, it would make sense that they held a straw poll (in executive session) if nothing else, which is illegal. It’s just wrong. The public should be privy to the process.”

Hughes agreed that Pye’s contract should be done in open session but said that changing the process requires 90 days’ written notice.

“I think the whole review should be in the public simply because the public deserves a right to hear each board member’s stand on each category because they elect these people,” she said. “It all needs to be out in the open. I’ve expressed that already to committee members, but there’s not a whole lot we can do about it now because we are abiding by his contract rules and regulations.”

Board members Sam Clark and Lisa Tupper were appointed last month to reevaluate the process, and she expects it to be changed in the future.

“The committee is already working on it,” she said.

Berkeley County School Board this year evaluated its superintendent, Rodney Thompson, during open session, after Bender said last year they acted illegally by doing it in closed session. That followed a four-year fight for access to board members’ 2007 individual evaluations of then-Superintendent Chester Floyd, which cost the district more than $73,000 in legal fees and resulted in a S.C. Supreme Court ruling in favor of The Post and Courier.

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