District 5 defends contract

By Al Dozier

The Lexington-Richland District 5 School Board Monday defended its contract agreement with Akil Ross as interim superintendent after coming under fire from several former education leaders.

A group of former superintendents and school board chairs in Lexington-Richland 5 filed a complaint with the agency that accredits the district’s schools over ethical concerns about the hiring of an interim superintendent.

The complaint, filed with the regional accrediting agency Cognia, calls into question the contract between the board and HeartEd LLC, the education consulting firm operated by Ross. That contract calls for the company to provide “superintendent services” to the district, while Ross remains an employee of HeartEd rather than of Lexington-Richland 5.

But Board Chairwoman Jan Hammond said the contract has been reviewed by the district’s attorney, who found no improprieties. In fact, the negotiation with Ross’s company actually saved the district money.

Ross also assured the board that there was nothing misleading about the temporary use of his company as a service provider.

“I didn’t do this for money,” he said of his contract agreement.

In other action, Ross outlined plans for a safe return to school following guidelines that will assure student safety. He said he hopes to “de-stress” the district from concerns about the pandemic.

Parents can monitor the safety of the district’s schools by accessing the online dashboard, which will show the changing safety levels in the schools.

The board also received a report on a new program called “STOPit that provides students with an opportunity to anonymously report harmful or inappropriate conduct using an app on their cell phone. School officials can be immediately informed about bullying, threats of violence or self-harm.

With STOPit, students can submit anonymous reports containing text, photos, or video. Administrators are then able to manage incidents in a backend management system called STOPit Admin.

The board also took a formal vote at the meeting approving the contract agreement with now-departed Superintendent Christina Melton.

Hammond said that vote was a response to a suit filed by The State Newspaper alleging violation of the open meetings laws in its handling of Melton’s resignation in a private meeting in June.

Hammond said the vote was not an admission that the district did anything wrong in the handling of the contract, which she was completely legal.