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Richland Two superintendent resigns after 6-hour closed-door board meeting

Baron Davis Richland 2 (copy) (copy)

Richland Two Superintendent Baron Davis. File

COLUMBIA — Richland County School District Two Superintendent Baron Davis resigned after the board met behind closed doors for nearly six hours during a special called meeting Jan. 17.

A vote to accept Davis's resignation, which came immediately and without public discussion after the board returned from the lengthy private session, was unanimous.

Davis, who was named superintendent in 2017, was the first Black leader of South Carolina’s fifth-largest school district. His resignation is effective Jan. 17. He had earned $254,681 a year under a contract lasting through June 2026.

Davis declined to comment about his resignation for a job where he led the 28,000-student district in northeast Richland County. He left the meeting almost immediately after the vote.

The motion to accept Davis’s resignation gave Board Chair Lindsay Agostini the authority to execute a settlement agreement with Davis regarding his resignation. Agostini and other board members declined to comment on the details of the board’s agreement with the former superintendent or his exit.

The bulk of the board also left immediately after the meeting was over, flanked by Richland County Sheriff’s Office deputies on the way to the parking lot.

The board did not name an interim superintendent, but Agostini said the district’s practice is for the deputy superintendent to step in when the superintendent is unavailable. Marshalynn Franklin is the district’s current deputy superintendent. 

South Carolina districts have paid large settlements to superintendents leaving under pressure in recent years.

Charleston County paid Gerrita Postlewait $500,000 after her resignation a year ago. Lexington Two agreed to pay Nicholas Wade $240,000 last spring after he left during his first year with the district. Lexington-Richland 5 paid Christina Melton, the state's reigning superintendent of the year, $226,000 to leave in 2021.  

Under his contract, Davis is supposed to receive 18 months pay if the board agrees to "terminate" the agreement. That would be $382,021.

On Jan. 17, around 20 people, in addition to district staffers, attended at the Richland Two meeting when it was first gaveled in at 4:30 p.m. Many of them, including former board member James Manning, attended in support of Davis. 

Carroll Lucas, a Columbia resident who said he’s a part of youth mentoring programs, called Davis a role model as the board discussed Davis’s contract in a closed meeting. 

“I think he’s done an outstanding job,” Lucas said.

After the board immediately entered closed session, those numbers started to dwindle as the meeting reached into the evening. At one point, a pizza was delivered for those still waiting for the board to come to a decision.

By the time the board exited close session, only a handful of people remained alongside the district staffers, many taking videos as board member Tamika Washington made the motion to accept Davis' resignation. 

The board has met to discuss Davis' contract behind closed doors twice in the past 11 days.

A two-hour closed session on Jan. 6 did not result in any public decision.

At the time, Agostini, a Davis critic who has voted against extending his contract, said she added the superintendent's contract to the agenda of a special meeting because four newly elected members had questions about the performance evaluation process and his relationship to the board.

A group of four board members supportive of Davis either did not seek reelection or were defeated last year. Agostini and two other board members who have been critical of the superintendent remained in office. 

“I don’t trust our superintendent,” Agostini said during a 2021 meeting where she voted against Davis' contract extension.

Davis' time in Richland Two has been marred by conflicts and arguments among members of the previous school board, some of which got personal.

State inspector finds board dysfunction undermining Columbia-area school district

Davis was involved in a confrontation with one of his critics before a January 2022 meeting that appeared to almost get physical. At the time, board member Monica Scott, who also has voted against extending the superintendent's contract, called for Davis to be placed on paid leave pending the outcome of an investigation into the argument.

The board has become a center of attention.

In September 2021, Agostini, Scott and board member LaShonda McFadden walked out of a board meeting after arguing they did not have enough time to review proposed changes in Davis contract. 

Davis asked for limited contact with McFadden in December 2021 after he accused her of making inappropriate demands and yelling at him, The State newspaper reported

Rifts among members resulted in mandatory leadership counseling in February after which a consultant advised the group to get along better with each other. 

An April dustup resulted in a now-former school board member, Teresa Holmes, pressing charges against McFadden for threatening her during a meeting.

Gov. Henry McMaster had cited "dysfunction" and parents complaining of a "toxic environment" in the school district for why he called on the Office of the Inspector General to conduct an investigation of the district's leadership in June. The request was the first under a new law that allows the governor to seek reviews of troubled school districts.

The investigative report that followed months later was scathing about board members' ability to work with one another, citing "petty disagreements and personal attacks" for undermining the district's educational mission.

Richland Two staff told investigators that the district's reputation has been damaged by the board conduct problems with "job candidates seeking employment elsewhere and experienced teachers leaving the district for other teaching positions or leaving the profession altogether." 

Click here for more news from Columbia, S.C.

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Ian Grenier covers K-12 education in the Columbia area. Originally from Charleston, he studied history and political science at USC and reported for the Victoria Advocate in South Texas before joining the Post and Courier.

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