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Editorials represent the institutional view of the newspaper. They are written and edited by the editorial staff, which operates separately from the news department. Editorial writers are not involved in newsroom operations.

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Editorial: School board paid Postlewait $500,000 to go away. We deserve to know why.

Gerrita Postlewait01.JPG (copy)

The Charleston County School Board owes the public an explanation for why it forced out Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait, shown on screen during a 2020 meeting. Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

The claim that it was Gerrita Postlewait’s idea to suddenly leave never was believable, and newly released documents make it clear that the Charleston County School Board paid the superintendent to go away, for reasons that remain shrouded in secrecy.

We already knew that the School Board was paying Dr. Postlewait more than $160,000 plus health, disability and life insurance in return for staying on as a “consultant” through the end of June. That’s odd for a sudden and unexplained departure, but not unheard of.

But the separation agreement she signed 12 days after the board emerged from a 90-minute executive session on Dec. 29 and voted without explanation to accept her “resignation” provides for an additional year’s salary and benefits totaling more than $320,000.

That means the district is paying Dr. Postlewait a half-million dollars for not stepping foot in district headquarters again. Well, that and agreeing not to sue the district. And agreeing not to say anything bad about the district. And agreeing to release that “I resigned” statement that had been preapproved by the board and incorporated into the separation agreement.

Here is the separation agreement between former Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait and the Charleston County School Board.

If you still find it believable that the board didn’t force out a good superintendent for reasons it has so far refused to provide, then consider these details from her contract: If the superintendent resigns by mutual consent, she is entitled to unused vacation pay and any retirement benefits guaranteed by state law. That’s it.

But if six or more members of the School Board vote to “unilaterally terminate” the superintendent, then taxpayers must provide a full year’s salary — which is what the board agreed to provide. On top of the six months full pay for “consulting” work, and $2,500 in attorney fees.

Here is the language in Dr. Postlewait's contract that guarantees a year's pay if the board unilaterally terminates the contract.

If you believe that the board loved Dr. Postlewait even more than the Charleston County Council loved its then-county attorney, Joe Dawson, when it gave him a $216,000 golden parachute after his appointment to the federal bench, then we’ve got an interstate extension to Johns Island we’d love to sell you. And if you do believe that, you should be livid that the board would squander half a million dollars that should be spent educating our children.

Actually, you should be livid about that in any case, because the board has provided no reason to believe that the district or its students are better off without Dr. Postlewait — which means it gave away half a million dollars for no good reason.

Paying high-profile employees not to work isn’t unheard of. Colleges do it all the time when coaches don’t win enough games. We don’t think that’s ever an acceptable use of public money, but at least we understand why it’s happening. The Charleston County School Board refuses to tell us why this happened — or even acknowledge that it happened.

Was it because of policy differences? Personality differences? Something political that the board members are embarrassed or afraid to acknowledge?

The one thing we know is that Dr. Postlewait didn’t do anything wrong. If she had, the board could have terminated her for cause at a tenth of the cost. (She would have been owed the $45,000 cash value of her unused vacation time, the same as for a truly voluntary resignation.) And while we wish she would tell us what happened, we can't blame her for agreeing not to spill the beans in return for $500,000.

By contract, we can blame the school board members for a lot — beginning with the complete loss of confidence we had in their leadership, their judgment and their honesty. What else are the board members squandering money on instead of improving the subpar education they still provide to so many kids in our district — particularly poor kids and kids of color? And what else are they not being honest with us about?

Unless or until board members are willing to tell us why they paid our superintendent to go away, we have no reason to trust anything they say or do — and a huge reason not to support any of them for reelection.

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