School board to conduct 9 interviews

The Charleston County School Board on Thursday voted to move ahead with its search for the next schools chief despite concerns raised this week about the transparency of its search.

The board voted 7-2 to interview nine semifinalists for Charleston County superintendent out of 32 applicants. The group made that decision after a two-hour closed-door meeting where they went over the candidates.

The vote to move forward with interviews followed a failed motion by board member Michael Miller to extend the superintendent search for one year. Miller took issue earlier this week with the search for Charleston’s next schools chief, asserting that seven of the board’s nine members either met with or had phone conversations with former Horry County Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait prior to her being named a candidate in March.

School board chairwoman Cindy Bohn Coats did not release the names of the semifinalists and she wouldn’t say whether Postlewait was among the nine candidates recommended by the S.C. School Boards Association, which is assisting in the superintendent search.

Miller and board member the Rev. Chris Collins voted against moving forward with interviewing candidates. Both board members, neither of whom met with Postlewait outside of the formal process, have said this week they think the search process is “tainted” because of the private meetings other board members had with Postlewait. They have said the board should start the superintendent search over with a new search firm.

A group of local clergy and civil rights activists have called for the board members who met with Postlewait to resign. A complaint regarding whether board members violated any open-meetings laws has been filed with the S.C. Attorney General’s Office.

The board didn’t discuss Miller’s concerns in open session before the meeting adjourned Thursday evening.

“I’m not happy with it,” Miller said of the interview process moving forward. “I think we need a little more time.”

Miller said that while he’s disappointed because “what we’re doing doesn’t really seem right to me,” he also recognizes that he has an obligation to those who elected him to move forward.

Coats wouldn’t discuss Miller’s assertions about Postlewait. Instead, she stressed the need for the board and the community to move forward with confidence in selecting a new superintendent.

“I think that the way the public would have confidence in the process is if we remember we’re hiring a person based against the qualifications necessary to educate our children,” Coats said. “The decision that we make in the next six, eight, twelve weeks — however long we decide to do this — affects what happens to a second-grader in ten years. That’s our focus and concern, and I think anybody should be more concerned if that were not our focus.”

Board member Kate Darby said she had lunch with Postlewait prior to her being named a candidate, saying, “I’m invited to lunch and meet with a lot of people.” She added, “Nobody’s done anything wrong.”

The search process has been transparent in seeking community input, Darby said. And she doesn’t think that board members’ interactions with Postlewait has tainted anything.

“Nobody’s made any decisions yet,” Darby said. “All nine of those people have an equal opportunity to be superintendent.”

Semifinalists will interview with the board via Skype on May 28, June 1 and June 2. Coats said the board hopes to have finalists in for interviews by the end of June.