School district extends buyout offer to Herring

Lisa Herring meets Kevin Eakes (from left), Elizabeth Glover and Sonya Jones during a reception at Charleston County School District offices when she is one of three finalists for superintendent.

Lisa Herring, chief academic officer for Charleston County School District, has been offered a buyout from the school board and has until noon Friday to accept or decline the offer, members of the board confirmed.

Herring, who was passed over for superintendent, hired attorney Nancy Bloodgood to renegotiate her contract soon after Gerrita Postlewait’s appointment as superintendent in July.

During a special meeting Tuesday, the board voted to approve a confidential motion related to an unspecified employee’s “contractual matter.” Under the approved motion, Herring, should she accept, would assume the role of deputy superintendent, board member Chris Collins confirmed.

She would earn a base salary of $140,000 plus benefits and would report solely to Postlewait until June 30, 2016, when the new agreement would expire. If Herring resigns before then, she would remain on the payroll until the end of June as an academic affairs consultant. She would receive $45,000 in severance pay and up to $35,000 in attorneys’ fees. In exchange for this offer, Herring would agree not to sue the district, its employees or any of members of the board.

“The bottom line is several board members are trying to fire her — nicely,” said Collins, who abstained from voting Tuesday.

Herring’s contract was last amended in November following then-Superintendent Nancy McGinley’s resignation. She was promoted to deputy superintendent for academics and given a $4,200 monthly supplement to her salary. Under the terms of her contract addendum, Herring is “entitled to continue employment in a position comparable to her former role as (chief academic officer)” as soon as the board hires a new superintendent or in the event she that “is no longer designated as (deputy superintendent for academics).” Her original contract, signed in August 2013, doesn’t expire until 2018.

Herring did not return requests for comment.

“The threat of a lawsuit over this, given the last six months. ... I don’t want to put the district or the community through that,” board member Todd Garrett said.

Board Chairwoman Cindy Bohn Coats said this is the first time in her five years on the board that an employee has tried to renegotiate a standing contract.

“In no way has the board ever, to my knowledge, or the staff, initiated contact or communications that said we want to change the job that she has under the contract that she has,” Coats said.

The school board named Herring a superintendent candidate in March, along with Postlewait and Chief Financial Officer Michael Bobby. After Bobby withdrew from consideration, the board voted to launch a national search for McGinley’s replacement. Herring, meanwhile, interviewed for a superintendent position with Birmingham (Ala.) City Schools in April but didn’t get the job. The Charleston County School Board made Herring one of three superintendent finalists in June.

The board’s decision to hire Postlewait instead of Herring one month later provoked public outcry. Critics of the decision slammed the superintendent search as a sham in the wake of revelations that seven of the nine board members privately met with Postlewait months before she had been named a candidate. Black clergy and activists, including Charleston NAACP President Dot Scott, accused the board of overlooking Herring, an African-American woman, due to her race.

Postlewait’s appointment has since drawn a bevy of protesters to school board meetings who have charged the board with racism and ethics violations.

“Dr. Herring is an invaluable asset to this school district and I would love to see her work continue,” said Michael Miller, the only board member who voted against Tuesday’s motion.

Herring came to Charleston in 2009 to serve as the executive director for student support services. She was promoted in 2011 to associate superintendent of academic and instructional support before being named chief academic officer in 2013. Until recently, she led the school district’s diversity and rigor task force, charged with reforming magnet school admissions and ensuring all students have access to high-level coursework.

“I will totally disagree with Rev. Collins. I feel like we as a board and individual board members have been super supportive of Dr. Herring. She has been doing a good job, working on a number of programs,” board member Kate Darby said. “The school board is doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing: making decisions about moving student achievement forward.”

Reach Deanna Pan at 937-5764.