After a four-year legal struggle, the Berkeley County School Board has released to The Post and Courier copies of individual evaluations of former superintendent Chester Floyd's performance.
Five of the nine board members rated Floyd's performance in 29 areas of responsibility as "commendable" or "satisfactory." The other four appeared to have concerns about Floyd, especially in how he interacted with board members who did not agree with him, and how he handled district finances, especially construction "change orders" for Cane Bay High School. On those four evaluation sheets, Floyd's performance received mostly ratings of "needs improvement" or "unknown."
The dispute between the Berkeley County School District and the newspaper dates to 2007, when district officials refused the newspaper access to board members' individual summations of Floyd's performance. The board released only an overall evaluation of the superintendent's performance and found it commendable. The board then gave Floyd a 5 percent raise, which boosted his salary to $196,980.
The district said individual documents were protected under attorney-client privilege because its lawyers had facilitated the process.
The newspaper's suit countered that the tactic circumvented the state's Freedom of Information Act.
"It is unfortunate that we had to go to court to force the release of what in every other jurisdiction has been public information," said Bill Hawkins, publisher of The Post and Courier. "And it is equally unfortunate that Berkeley taxpayers had to pay dearly for the school district's attempt to hide evaluation information. But, in the end, common sense and the Freedom of Information Act prevailed."
School board Chairwoman Kathy Schwalbe, in a prepared statement earlier this month, said the board voted to waive attorney-client privilege and give the newspaper access to the documents because the events happened four years ago, and the district is in a financial crisis and can't continue to spend money fighting the suit. It has spent more than $73,000 on legal bills so far.
The statement also said that the board was giving access to the documents reluctantly, and that members thought some of the evaluations contained comments that were defamatory.
Floyd, who is now superintendent for Lexington County School District 3, did not return calls for comment.
Former board member Jim Royce's name is on his copy of the evaluation he completed because he emailed it to the board's attorney.
Royce said that when he disagreed with Floyd, Floyd threatened to sue him "for saying things about him that weren't true."
In response, Royce said, he contacted his attorney, who contacted Floyd's attorney, who sent a letter to Royce. "The essence of the letter was that I was defaming him," Royce said.
Royce said he doesn't think he ever defamed Floyd. "I was on the school board and my job was to evaluate him. Why would that be defaming?"
Royce, who served on the board for 12 years, said he was critical of Floyd for giving the go-ahead for more than $1 million in construction "change orders" at Cane Bay High School before getting board approval. Board policy requires the superintendent to get board approval before spending more than $100,000.
An attorney hired by the board in 2007 to review the incident found Floyd and other school officials didn't deviate from board policy. School officials allowed construction to proceed that included necessary changes, Floyd told the board, but no money changed hands until after the board approved the changes.
Royce said he was often critical of Floyd's performance on financial matters. "We were spending a lot of money that didn't need to be spent," he said. "That was my big gripe."
Former board member Terry Hardesty, who said he also had concerns about Floyd's performance, took issue with remarks from the current board chairwoman, who said the evaluations were defamatory. "There was nothing in my comments that was defamatory," he said. "They were critical, necessarily critical."