Football reigns supreme in the South, and a disagreement involving the next pigskin coach for James Island Charter High apparently has landed the principal in an off-the-field showdown with his board of directors.
The charter school’s board agreed 5-1 Monday night to put Principal Bob Bohnstengel on paid administrative leave for an unspecified period of time, and it told Assistant Principal Rich Gordon to run the school in the meantime.
Board member Paul Schwartz was opposed to the majority, and board member Rusty Thomas wasn’t present.
Bohnstengel hired attorney Nancy Bloodgood to represent him, and she said Wednesday that this controversy comes down to who will choose the school’s next football coach.
“They don’t like that he’s not going to let them pick the football coach,” she said. “That’s all I can figure out. There are other reasons they don’t like him ... but they think (the board) should be in charge.”
Randy Hilyer resigned as coach of the school football team on Nov. 5, four days after the Trojans finished their second consecutive losing season under Hilyer. The team ended the 2013 season with a 2-8 record.
Hilyer’s job isn’t the only one causing friction between Bohnstengel and the board. Earlier this month, the board directed Bohnstengel to advertise for a new football coach and athletic director. Keith Bolus, who heads the school’s board, said the board hasn’t made any decision about the future employment of Tom Hatley, the athletic director. Bohnstengel’s position is that the board can’t make those kinds of hiring decisions.
Although football might have triggered Monday’s board action, a broader issue appears to be the board’s role and what its members perceive their roles to be.
The same struggle between the school board and its top employee has been a point of contention in Charleston County School District for years. Some board members have said they have an obligation to be more hands-on in running the district, but others say the board should stick to policy-making and budgeting.
Until Wednesday, James Island Charter High School’s board had been silent about its decision regarding Bohnstengel. Bloodgood said she was angry about that, and she had heard crazy, false rumors being spread. That’s one of the reasons she decided to speak publicly.
“They’re being reckless and intentional in their attempt to harm him in their silence,” she said.
She said she still was waiting on official communication from the school’s board on why he was put on administrative leave.
Bolus spoke Wednesday to The Post and Courier about the situation for the first time. Bohnstengel hasn’t been fired, but he said he couldn’t say more.
It’s a personnel matter, and he said he’s prohibited from discussing it in detail.
Bolus said there weren’t any allegations of criminal doings or financial impropriety involving Bohnstengel.
Because this drama is playing out in a charter school, it will be handled in a different way than it would if it were happening at a traditional neighborhood school.
Charter schools are public schools that operate independently from the school district in which they reside. Parents elect boards to govern the school, and those boards run the school’s budget and set policy.
Bloodgood pointed out that Bohnstengel’s contract is signed by the county superintendent and not the school’s governing board. She said it would be up to the superintendent to make a decision about his employment. It wasn’t immediately clear on Wednesday who had that power.
The problems between the school’s board and principal apparently started when parents elected a new board in October. Four of its seven members changed, and some of those new board members don’t like Bohnstengel, Bloodgood said.
“They’re mad because he won’t let them micromanage the school,” she said.
“There are no performance issues. It’s really just personal issues between him and the board.”
Bolus said the board doesn’t want to micromanage, and the operations of the school are best left to its administration. Still, he said, the board does want to fulfill its obligations and duties as defined by its charter.
Bolus wanted parents and the community to know that the school is in capable hands under Gordon, and that the board has faith in him. The school has good teachers, and the board wasn’t looking to make any significant changes to the faculty, he said.
“I know the teachers are frustrated with the lack of information,” but, he said, he couldn’t give any more specifics. “It’s an excellent school and the mission continues.”
He also said he wanted to apologize to the parents who came to Monday’s board meeting and expected a time for public comment. It wasn’t an appropriate time for public discussion, he said.
The board has retained Caroline Cleveland in this matter. In an e-mail to The Post and Courier, Cleveland said she was out of town for Thanksgiving and would set a time to talk Monday.
Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or (843) 937-5546.