Panel rejects contract extension for diversity consultant tied to Academic Magnet investigation

The Charleston County School District's plan to extend the contract of a diversity consultant linked to the investigation into what some considered a racist postgame ritual by Academic Magnet's football team was rejected Tuesday by a divided advisory committee.

The Audit and Finance Committee voted 3-2 against allocating $48,956 to extend the contract of Atlanta-based diversity consultant Kevin Clayton for the rest of the school year.

School Board members Todd Garrett, Tom Ducker and citizen representative Susan Leadem voted against the contract extension, while School Board member Eric Mack and citizen representative Joe Grech voted for it. The proposal will go before the full School Board on Monday with a negative recommendation from the committee.

Ducker said his primary concern was that he's unsure about whether Clayton has delivered on the work he was hired to do, while Garrett said he would like to see the Charleston Area Justice Ministry lead the district's diversity initiative.

Another concern was Clayton's role as a defendant in two pending lawsuits related to his involvement in the investigation into the Academic Magnet football team's watermelon ritual. Leadem worried that extending the contract with Clayton's company, Axxis Consulting, amid the football controversy could look like a "knee jerk reaction."

Instead, Leadem suggested the district consider creating community committees to look into ways to improve diversity.

"I just feel that this is an opportunity for free to get people involved to try to move forward," she said.

But Mack said he felt like the Academic Magnet situation has overshadowed other work Clayton has done with the school district. "The question is, has Axxis Consulting performed at the level the district asked of them?" Mack said. "Prior to (the Academic Magnet situation) the work has been of good service to the district and I think it's unfortunate that Axxis Consulting was brought into this Academic Magnet situation."

Acting Superintendent Michael Bobby told the committee the school district hired Clayton months before the situation at the magnet school erupted, and that the diversity plans underway are not related to the football team.

"This consulting company was not hired to intervene in that particular issue or on the Academic Magnet," Bobby said.

Clayton's role in the watermelon ritual investigation, Bobby said, was "very unfortunate in that it can create a perception ... that is not correct."

Bobby said that Clayton's expertise is needed to keep the district's diversity project "in gear" for the rest of the school year. After that, Bobby said the School Board may need to consider whether the district should continue working with a consultant or hire full-time staff to continue diversity efforts.

The school district's original $50,000 contract with Clayton ran from July 1 through Nov. 30. School officials told the School Board last month about its goal to finish a long-pending strategic diversity plan under Clayton's guidance to address issues such as closing achievement gaps among minority students, improving diversity in magnet schools and engaging the community on school-related situations.

Clayton this fall led the implementation of a Dignity & Respect Campaign in the district's West Ashley schools that uses behavioral tips to help improve the climate of tolerance within those schools. Clayton, who was not at the meeting Tuesday, also has worked with a committee of parents and students at the Charleston County School of the Arts to address diversity concerns there.

Clayton said in an interview Wednesday that his work in Charleston extends beyond what he's done in the last six months for the district. He said he lived in Mount Pleasant from 2009 to 2012 and did work for the Family Circle Cup while also serving as the chief diversity officer for the United States Tennis Association.

"I think the perception is I'm this guy from Atlanta, but I do have ties to Charleston," he said.

In the coming months, Clayton said he hopes to help the district finalize its diversity plan, prepare a plan to launch a district-wide Dignity & Respect Campaign and complete his work with the School of the Arts.

Clayton will be at a School Board workshop Monday to address any concerns the board may have ahead of the group's vote on his contract during a regular meeting Monday night.