A new Charleston County school program aimed at helping four struggling elementary schools achieve what Superintendent Nancy McGinley calls “a whole new level of excellence” deserved a better send-off than it got last week.
At least the public deserved better.
The program, which will pay some teachers for an additional 20 days during which they undergo training and learn team-building, was upstaged by the district’s flouting of the state’s Freedom of Information law.
■ The Charleston County School Board met in a closed-door session to do business that should have been handled in public.
■ The district refused to release the names of the four schools participating in the program. The public’s money is being spent, and the public has a right to know where it is going.
■ And while not illegal, the administration waited until Charleston County School Board members walked into a closed-door meeting to give members details of the program. And even then, the board was asked to vote without a cost estimate, according to Elizabeth Moffly, the sole member to oppose the proposal.
In addition, Chris Collins, another school board member, questioned whether teachers had been included in the discussion.
This situation came on the heels of another attempt by the district to stay out of the public eye. In January, school financial officer Michael Bobby invited school board members to meet and learn about school funding, but he specified that the public was not to be included.
After The Post and Courier wrote an editorial lamenting the secrecy, the work session was cancelled, at least for board members.
The closed-door meeting to discuss plans to improve Memminger, Sanders-Clyde, North Charleston and Burns elementary schools was even more of a mystery. While school officials said they closed the meeting because the discussion involved contracts with teachers, they were not negotiating contracts. They were, moreover, dealing with them as a budget matter.
And most baffling of all was the district’s refusal to name the schools where the program will be implemented.
The program is being pitched as a way to ensure that the best teachers work in the neediest schools. Teachers will have to apply, or reapply, for the positions. If those schools are to improve, they need the best.
But to shroud the initiative in secrecy undercuts public confidence at the outset.
Board members should keep that in mind as they continue to discuss a tax increment financing (TIF) district planned for Johns Island.
Late last month the board went behind closed doors to discuss the board’s available options for negotiating the terms of the TIF.
But the controversy generated by the TIF sought by the Beach Company, a local developer, for Kiawah River Plantation says that board members should first publicly renew the discussion of whether the school district should be involved with the TIF plan at all.
Under the Beach Company’s TIF proposal, the district would agree to forgo $63 million that the project would generate in taxes to help provide the development with infrastructure.
That’s a matter of intense public interest to taxpayers. So is the plan for a resort and residential development that will further increase demands for new roads across rural Johns Island.
Transparency is essential to the discussion. And, please, no surprises.