State needs to step in on District 5

Open Letter

I am writing to you as a frustrated educator, parent, taxpayer, and voter. Several months ago, I reached out with concerns regarding what was happening in Richland-Lexington School District 5. At that time, I said I felt that without corrections, we would lose our superintendent Dr. Christina Melton. I’m sure you’re aware that she has since been forced out, despite being selected as State Superintendent of the Year.

In a state that already has a questionable educational record, I would think that people at the state level would be hyper-focused on preserving a district that has historically been one of the best in the state rather than watching it fall apart. I find it mind-boggling that we have a State Board of Education, State Education Oversight Committee, State Ethics Commission, and a State School Board Association and yet apparently none of you can do anything to prevent a disaster like what is happening in D5 right now. I am writing to each of these organizations as well as to my state representatives in the hope that someone will care enough to step in.

Below are some current concerns that I would like to bring to your attention. Many of these have been featured prominently in The State and/or The Post and Courier. Some have even reached a national audience. Our district – and state – have become a laughingstock.

• Dr. Melton has been forced out after being subjected to a barrage of emails from board members requesting her to respond to random requests – even on weekends. When she tried to respond through the board chair as is appropriate, she was accused of insubordination.

• In one school year, in addition to Dr. Melton, we have lost our director of human resources, our facilities director, the construction consultant on the new Piney Grove Elementary School, our CFO, the second in command to the CFO, and an attorney who has done a great deal to benefit the district in the past. The CFO that was recommended to replace the one we lost was not approved simply because they weren’t a CPA, even though that was not a requirement in the job posting and the person that was ultimately hired is also not a CPA.

• Our interim Superintendent, Dr. Akil Ross, is highly respected, including by me. However, his relationships with board member Ken Loveless should be looked at to see if there is an ethics concern. Mr. Loveless is on an advisory board of Dr. Ross’s foundation and both Mr. Loveless and board Member Catherine Huddle have contributed to Dr. Ross’s foundation. Dr. Ross is on the board of directors of a company owned by Ken Loveless’s brother. Based on previous ethics violations committed by Mr. Loveless, these relationships cause concern.

• Dr. Ross is not being paid as an individual, but through his foundation. This is something that warrants further investigation.

• The district has now contracted with an outside individual, Angela Bain, to restructure the district. The discussion regarding this decision has not followed standard procedures. Ms. Bain previously worked in HR for the district and was not well-liked by teachers or staff. I have heard she is a close friend of Mr. Loveless, which causes more concern regarding his personal control of our district. The thought of her returning to the district is causing great concern. My fear is that we are about to lose even more of our top educators.

• Current board chair, Jan Hammond, has used her school district email to campaign for and against board members. This is an ethics violation and I’d like to file a formal complaint about this.

• One board member has threatened a teacher with her job because she didn’t like the way the teacher handled the board member’s son.

• A board member, Nikki Gardner, has been in the paper at least three times because of the derogatory way she has spoken to students, teachers, and parents.

• Former board member Ed White was publicly sanctioned for speaking to the media about Dr. Melton’s resignation. However, other board members who have spoken to the media, one who was documented as lying several times in an open session, one who received an ethics violation notification, at least two who stood in polling locations and suggested voters place votes for a specific candidate have never been publicly sanctioned.

• Following board meetings, board members have met with a former board member, Kim Murphy, who has sued the district so much that she was legally forbidden from filing further suits against the district. In these meetings, Ms. Murphy has stacks of binders and documents, making it appear as if they were discussing district business, which is a violation.

• Members of the public during public input have been allowed to disparage teachers, curse so badly that YouTube refused to post the video, and speak over the allotted time. On the other hand, anyone that mentions Mr. Loveless’ name is gaveled. The chair has gaveled black males as soon as they have gone over time. This disparity has been glaringly obvious and is very concerning.

• Decisions are being made behind closed doors and in committees rather than in board meetings. Application of board procedures are inconsistent at best.

• Board members with little to no educational experience are making decisions without regard to educator input. They have not even been in our schools since COVID started and yet will not listen to those who have first-hand knowledge of what is happening in our schools.

As the daughter of educators, I am a strong supporter of public education. However, I have never seen a board wipe out a district as quickly as this board has District 5. I have resigned from my position as an educator in D5. I have withdrawn my son from the district and am considering withdrawing my daughter as well.

I implore that you do whatever you can to prevent further damage from occurring. I have no doubt that we will continue to lose district personnel, administrators, and teachers either through them being forced out or due to resignations. No one wants to work in the toxic atmosphere being experienced at this time.
Thank you for your time and consideration.

Kristin Batchelor