Charleston School Board votes down contract extension for diversity consultant

The future of diversity initiatives in Charleston County schools appeared uncertain Monday night after the Charleston County School Board voted not to extend a contract for a diversity consultant linked to the investigation into the Academic Magnet football team’s controversial watermelon ritual.

Five of the nine member board including Chairwoman Cindy Bohn Coats, Tom Ducker, Tripp Wiles, Kate Darby and Chris Staubes voted against extending consultant Kevin Clayton’s contract through June 30. Board members Michael Miller, Todd Garrett, the Rev. Eric Mack and the Rev. Chris Collins voted to extend the contract.

The board did vote to pay Clayton up to $20,396 for work performed outside the scope of his original $50,000 contract which ended Nov. 30. The proposed contract extension would have been for $79,500.

“I’m very disappointed because the work now does stop and we were making progress within the community as well as within the organization itself,” Clayton said following the board’s vote.

Clayton had been leading efforts since July to help the school district complete a long-pending strategic diversity plan. He also led the implementation of a campaign to improve tolerance in the district’s West Ashley schools and had been working with a committee at the Charleston County School of the Arts to address diversity concerns there.

Clayton’s association with the school district came to the forefront last fall after he assisted in the questioning of Academic Magnet football players regarding the team’s post-game victory ritual involving chanting and smashing watermelons which some said perpetuated a stereotype demeaning to African Americans. He along with the school district is a named defendant in two defamation lawsuits stemming from the incident’s investigation.

A handful of people urged the board to continue Clayton’s contract Monday, saying that much more work needs to be done in the name of diversity.

“To have a learning experience where we shared a difference of perspectives from different classes, from different sectors in society was essential to the magnet experience itself,” said Muhiyidin Moye, who graduated from Academic Magnet in 2004.

Several school board members said they were unhappy that there had been no formal bidding process to award Clayton’s contract, the cost of which they thought was high.

“My challenge is with contract not with Kevin,” said Darby.

Miller urged the board to continue with the contract to get the district’s diversity efforts underway.

“The question is is the work important?” he asked. “If the work is important then let’s create the blue print.”