Groups question Charleston Co. School Board meeting on superintendent

Published: Sep. 11, 2023 at 10:41 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 11, 2023 at 4:44 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The National Action Network accused members of the Charleston County School Board Monday of working to fire the district’s newly-hired superintendent.

The Rev. Nelson B. Rivers III, the vice president of religious affairs for the National Action Network, called an end for what he called “racist attacks” on Dr. Eric Gallien, who became the district’s new superintendent on July 1.

Rivers said they were alerted by “several groups” of the plan to terminate Gallien. He also alleged some board members are “attempting to eliminate the most effective and equitable curriculum” in the district’s history.

“An apparent attempt to end historic academic achievement of black and brown Charleston County School District students the discriminatory actions will not go unchallenged,” Rivers said. “We need to stop this now. They’re going to review the superintendent’s contract. What is there to review? You signed the contract. You recruited him. And you voted publicly to give him the contract.”

Rivers alleged that the school board wants to be the superintendent for the district.

“Our children are on the verge of a breakthrough and how dare you try to take us back from whence we came?” he said. “And we want them to know we ain’t going back.”

Millicent Brown, a civil rights activist who was one of the 11 students who racially integrated Charleston County Schools, said one of the reasons they fought to integrate schools in 1963 was that Black families’ tax dollars were going to pay for white students’ education, but that Black families were not benefitting from that education.

“We are saying, we are taxpayers. The way the people on this school board are acting is not in line with the wishes of the majority of the people and we’re not going to let you forget that,” she said.

Over the weekend, four Charleston County School Board members announced plans for a news conference to raise concerns Monday about a special called meeting that is set to focus on the contract of the district’s new superintendent.

Board members Courtney Waters, Darlene Dunmeyer-Roberson, Daron Lee Calhoun II and Dr. Carol Tempel called a news conference for Monday at noon. The four claimed in a news release the “Moms for Liberty faction of the board” called the meeting but did not allow the rest of the board to be “privy to the purposes of the meeting.”

The members claimed there was “a lack of transparency” over what they called a “secretive special called meeting.” That meeting is set to take place at approximately 5:15 p.m. Monday after the school board’s Committee as a Whole meeting.

None of the four board members who sent the release spoke at the news conference.

“On the heels of record-breaking test scores among all students in CCSD, elected officials of the Board of Trustees are again being forced to make whiplash decisions about the future of our children,” a news release from Waters, Dunmeyer-Roberson, Calhoun and Tempel states.

The agenda lists two items, the superintendent’s contract and a personnel matter, both of which are set to take place during executive session, which means they will be conducted privately. The agenda does not provide further details on the nature of the discussion.

Charleston County School District Superintendent Dr. Eric Gallien’s contract began on July 1.

He held a news conference on July 6, saying he was ready to listen and learn and acknowledging questions surrounding the selection process.

“It’s no secret that there was some controversy around the search itself,” Gallien said at that news conference. “I am committed to this community, learning what is going on in this community and building those relationships.”

Two other finalists for the position dropped out before they had the opportunity to meet with the community.

The Charleston County School Board voted 6-3 to approve Gallien’s contract, which made him the highest-paid employee in the Charleston County School District’s history with a salary of $275,000. After his first year, that salary will increase by 2% annually.

Charleston County School Board Chair Pamela McKinney declined to comment on the meeting over the weekend.

In the press release from the four concerned board members, they say they asked McKinney what the topic of conversation would be at the special meeting. They say her response was “The agenda is straightforward. The meeting will be also.”

Board member Keith Grybowski provided a statement that read in part:

My commitment to transparency remains unwavering. As a public servant, I understand the significance of open government, but I also respect the legal boundaries that protect the privacy and rights of individuals, especially when it comes to contractual and personnel matters.

I believe it’s essential for our community to understand that transparency doesn’t equate to revealing every detail of every discussion. It’s about striking the right balance between public access and protecting the privacy and rights of all parties involved, in accordance with the law.