Charleston County School Board considering changes to grant policy after members raise concerns

The Charleston County School Board could clarify its policy on grants after two members raised concerns about the way a federal application has been handled.

The issue involves whether and how the board should be involved in signing off on grant applications. Board members Elizabeth Moffly and Tom Ducker were surprised to learn about the district winning in December a $19.4 million federal Race to the Top District grant, and they questioned why the board wasn’t apprised of the application.

Moffly said former board Chairman Chris Fraser and Superintendent Nancy McGinley didn’t follow board policy in seeking that money, but other board members said the policy wasn’t clear.

The district’s policy directs the superintendent to seek as many sources of revenue as possible to supplement the budget, and “such proposals by the superintendent shall be approved by the board provided they are not inconsistent with board policy and the educational goals of the district.”

Board member John Barter said that portion of the policy was confusing, and he could interpret it in different ways.

“What we have is an ambiguous policy and one that needs to be clarified,” he said.

Fraser is chairman of the board’s policy committee, and he had put this issue on the board policy committee’s agenda before Moffly brought it up publicly at Monday night’s board meeting.

The committee learned this week that the district applies for an estimated 1,000 grants annually, and it receives about 25 percent of those. The committee asked for more information, and it will have to decide at what point, if ever, the board needs to be involved in those applications.

The federal Race to the Top grant application required the signature of the school board chairman, and Fraser signed it. He also wrote a letter dated Oct. 1 that read, in part, “The CCSD Board of Trustees is pleased to submit this letter of commitment on behalf of the Charleston County School District’s application for the Race to the Top – District competition.”

Moffly said that’s a problem because the board never approved the district’s application, and Fraser signed the application on Oct. 24, 2012, two days after Cindy Bohn Coats was elected as the board’s chairwoman.

“For him to send a letter of support from the board of which we had no knowledge is blatant disregard for public service,” Moffly said. “It’s disconcerting. It’s about trust. It’s about being professional. It’s about not doing back-room deals and keeping everyone else in the dark.”

Fraser said he signed the letter written by district staff while he was chair. He signed the application after Coats replaced him as chairwoman because it was completed during his tenure, and he was finishing his leadership duties.

McGinley said she has worked with six board chairs, and each always has signed off on grant requests as well as other documents that allow the district to continue functioning.

Moffly said after the meeting she wants the superintendent and Fraser to resign because of this situation, and she plans to write a letter to the state attorney general requesting an investigation. Neither McGinley nor Fraser said they would resign.

Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or (843) 937-5546.

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