Charleston Co. School Board members call for change, reversals of recent actions

Four members of the Charleston County Board of Trustees are calling for the full board to rescind a decision they made last week.
Published: Oct. 2, 2023 at 8:49 AM EDT|Updated: Oct. 2, 2023 at 6:35 PM EDT

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Four members of the Charleston County Board of Trustees are calling for the full board to rescind the decision to put the district’s new superintendent on paid administrative leave last week.

But that’s only one of three recent actions by the board that Darlene Dunmeyer-Roberson, Dr. Carol Tempel, Courtney Waters and Daron Lee Calhoun II called a news conference to address Monday afternoon.

The four also want answers about why the board decided not to hire Michelle Simmons as the district’s chief administrative officer. Waters said Simmons was the only one in the chief cabinet required to have an external interview panel and had all the qualifications for the job.

“The country, the state, but more importantly, our children are watching, and they are counting on us,” Darlene Dunmeyer-Roberson for District 8 said.

“The color of someone’s skin shouldn’t guarantee someone a seat at any table. Qualifications certainly must,” Waters said.

She said the lack of transparency and the board’s abuse of power are major problems.

“I’m wondering, and I’m believing the community is wondering, why would she not get that role?” Waters said.

Board members also want to know why six members of the district’s Health Advisory Committee were removed by the policy liaison who also reassigned nine of the positions without discussion from the entire board.

“On [Sept. 25], one person made a recommendation with the justification that he had the right to determine a slate of candidates by virtue of his position as policy liaison and his world view,” Temple said.

The four said they want the board to trust the superintendent’s hiring decisions and are sure taxpayers do not want to continue paying Galien to stay home. They accused their fellow board members of causing a “week of intense public backlash, confusion and community outrage when they voted to place Gallien on paid administrative leave pending an investigation and provided no reason.”

One week ago the board voted 5-4 to place Gallien on paid administrative leave. The vote was carried out by Carlotte Bailey, Ed Kelley, Keith Grybowski, Leah Whatley and Pamela McKinney. The four members voting in the minority said the actions are “unconscionable” and must be addressed.

“The reason behind the investigation, as best I could explain without breaking confidentiality, is that an email complaint claiming a hostile work environment based solely and largely, I should say largely, on work responsibilities in CCSD,” Dunmeyer-Roberson said, providing no additional details on the specifics of the complaint.

“First and foremost, we need to support our superintendent. We need the board members to come back and reinstate Dr. Eric Galleon so he can do his job,” Calhoun said. “You’ve heard us say this before: We were not elected to be the superintendent. I do not want to be a superintendent. That was not my qualification. He has the qualification.”

Calhoun said he is confident the investigation will not turn up any wrongdoing.

“We’re not asking for much. We’re asking for transparency. We’re asking for us to do our job for us to move forward, so this district could stop being the laughingstock of South Carolina,” Calhoun said.

Gallien’s contract began on July 1, when he became the highest-paid employee in the Charleston County School District’s history with a salary of $275,000. After the first year, his salary will increase by 2% annually.

Gallien released the following statement regarding the board’s decision:

From the day I arrived in Charleston County with my family and began proudly serving as your Superintendent, we have been deeply moved by your warm embrace, energized spirit, and sincere sense of family that made us feel instantly at home.

Therefore, after the board’s decision on Monday, it came as no surprise we would experience such overwhelming support from our scholars, families, staff, and the community. Words cannot express how grateful I am for your countless messages of encouragement, commitment, and hope.

Our scholars - you must always hold dear the fact that CCSD belongs to you, it is your school district. You are what is most important to all of us. My absence will not diminish my unwavering dedication to each of you, nor our work to ensure your education is a tool of empowerment to shape your future, reach your dreams, and positively impact the world around you. Stay focused on your studies, explore your passions, embrace curiosity, and seize the many opportunities that lie before you.

Our staff, families, and community - throughout my entire career, have come to realize change is always happening, and it is never easy. Although recent events have raised questions and concerns, we must continue to respect the investigative process, and believe in our board’s commitment to CCSD’s stated value, of “Integrity - honoring truthfulness, fairness and transparency.” When grounded in this value, the investigative process can be a journey of learning and improvement for all of us.

Lastly, it was you, the Charleston County community who through your engagement in the superintendent hiring process, created the candidate profile that would ultimately provide me the opportunity to proudly serve you in this capacity, and I am grateful for your partnership. I remain confident this process will make us stronger as together we continue our selfless support of scholars and each other, and emerge better as a result.

As far as the organization, Mom’s For Liberty, who was frequently mentioned in Tuesday’s news conference for what Waters says they are “gaslighting the community in thinking that something is amiss when nothing is actually wrong.”

Charleston County Chapter Chair Tara Wood says this in response:

“Illiteracy is the real issue in Charleston County, not racism. Only 23% of African American children grades 3-8 were reading at grade level last year, according to S.C. Ready 2022 data.  And what about the discipline issues in our classrooms? There are at least ten ongoing lawsuits or investigations from CCSD teachers or employees. You can verify this by contacting the S.C. Human Affairs Commission or the EEOC, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.”

Principals in Charleston County said they were “disappointed” in the Board of Trustees after their most recent meeting.

Sixteen principals from the Charleston County School District signed their names on a letter sent to the Board of Trustees Thursday. They said the meeting did not meet the expectations they expect from elected officials and leaders.

None of the five school board members who voted to place Gallien on leave responded to requests for comments.