Berkeley board a slow learner

A year after the S.C. Supreme Court ruled that the Berkeley County School Board was illegally withholding public information, the board has once again turned its back on the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

In the prior case, The Post and Courier was denied access to board members’ individual evaluations of then-Superintendent Chester Floyd, as if to suggest that citizens who paid his salary and entrusted their children to the schools he supervised had no right to know how well, or poorly, he performed his job.

This time, the board went behind closed doors, discussed Superintendent Rodney Thompson’s job performance and agreed that it “exceeds expectations.” Once again, the board’s failure to make that decision in public suggests a citizens-don’t-need-to-know attitude.

We would hope that the board would act in an open and transparent manner because it is the right thing to do. People want to know about their schools and the people who run them.

But absent that, we would think that the board, presumably better educated about the law in light of the Supreme Court ruling against it, would strive to avoid another embarrassing misstep.

Apparently not. Perhaps that is no surprise. The Supreme Court’s decision addressed the board’s improper use of a lawyer to conduct Mr. Floyd’s evaluation so the comments could be anonymous. Instead of conceding that the board had acted in error, Board Chairman Kathy Schwalbe said at the time that the district, which had spent $73,000 to keep the records secret, couldn’t continue spending money fighting the lawsuit.

It is difficult to imagine why the board still seems reluctant to deal with public business in public. Surely Mr. Thompson wouldn’t mind. The board was pleased with his performance and awarded him a contract extension, a pay raise and an increase in his car allowance.

And if the board had found shortcomings, an open discussion would have given Mr. Thompson an opportunity to explain himself in public.

If board members are averse to giving their opinions in public, they don’t need to be on the board. Voters have a right to know how members stand on issues so they can re-elect them. Or not.

Chairwoman Schwalbe said board members are “highly conscious of serving our community in the highest possible standards” and “making sure we’re doing things the right way and that we’re setting good examples for our employees and our students.”

A good place to start would be to commit to being open, honest and transparent because doing so is good for the public and for the schools.

And because it’s the law.