Berkeley County School Board to evaluate superintendent in open session

Berkeley County Superintendent Rodney Thompson.

Berkeley County School Board members will decide tonight whether to give Superintendent Rodney Thompson a raise as the State Law Enforcement Division wraps up its investigation into allegations that district employees misused taxpayer time and money.

If you go

What: Berkeley County School Board meeting

When: 6:30 tonight

Where: Berkeley Intermediate School, 777 Stony Landing Road, Moncks Corner

It has been more than a year since Thompson’s last evaluation.

But a lawyer who filed a complaint against the district with the state Attorney General’s Office said he believes the board is attempting to preempt the outcome of the probe.

“I am suspicious of their motive and timing for this evaluation,” said Josh Whitley, the lawyer.

School Board Chairman Doug Cooper said there is no motive to the timing.

“We did not get to it in April, so we are covering it the first meeting in May,” he said. “I would not read anything more into it. We have a contractual obligation to review him annually.”

Since January, SLED has been investigating allegations of ethics violations and misconduct in office in connection with November’s school improvement bond referendum.

Neither the district nor the state Attorney General’s Office have named Thompson, but emails and other information point to Thompson and two other employees. Ethics violations carry a penalty of $2,000 per offense and criminal violations are punishable with fines of up to $5,000 or a year in prison.

The investigation is near the end, authorities have said.

Thompson’s last review was on April 10, 2012, when the board decided he “exceeds expectations,” and gave him a 5 percent pay raise, bringing his annual salary to $157,500; a monthly automobile allowance increase from $850 to $1,100; and a one-year contract extension to June 30, 2015.

However, when the board decided Thompson’s rating in closed session, it acted illegally, lawyers said at the time. When asked for the evaluations, the district denied that there was any written documentation until The Post and Courier filed a Freedom of Information Act request.

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 newspaper.

Tonight, each board member will comment on Thompson’s performance then choose a rating of “excellent,” “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory,” board members said. There will be no written evaluation, but there may be more discussion in executive session.

“It sounds like they have learned a little bit,” said S.C. Press Association attorney Jay Bender. “They are going to have a discussion in public on this important decision, which they didn’t do last year.”

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