The Board of Trustees of District Five of Lexington and Richland Counties takes this opportunity to respond to what has been characterized by the media and others as it taking improper action in violation of the S.C. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which is often referred to as the S.C. Sunshine Law, concerning Dr. Christina Melton’s employment.
As an initial matter, the Board takes seriously these allegations, particularly those raised by Mr. Ed White, whose service as a Board Member remains in effect until July 14, 2021, in accordance with Board Policy BBBC – Board Member Resignation. As a current Board Member, Mr. White is charged with the duties and responsibilities to uphold his office as an elected official, until such a time as his resignation becomes effective. All District Board Members are bound by the Oath of Office (S.C. Constitution, Art. II, Sect. 26) in addition to District Board Policies BBA – Board Powers and Duties and BCA – Board Member Code of Ethics (maintaining the confidentiality of matters discussed in executive session, among other ethical principles) and the traditional legal duties of loyalty, care, and finance imposed by one’s service as a Board Member. These duties, responsibilities, and ethical considerations are the cornerstone of board conduct and are provided through board training and fellowship, including educational and training seminars provided by the S.C. School Boards Association. These standards govern the effective running of school boards across South Carolina to protect our educational system, students, and stakeholders.
Notwithstanding the publicity surrounding the announcement of Mr. White’s resignation and the statements he made as an individual Board Member on the evening of June 14, 2021, and thereafter, the Board wishes to address any and all allegations that it acted inappropriately or illegally with regard to Dr. Melton’s resignation. It is disappointing to the Board that this news was shared in this careless way and without consideration of the District’s staff and students as we near the end of the 2020-21 school year and prepare to celebrate our graduates and end-of-year achievements. The public display of contempt and disdain for the situation stripped Dr. Melton of the ability to address her staff, students, and the community about her plans and completely undermined her authority to share her future in the manner that she deserved during this transitional period for our District.
As to the specific allegation that the Board violated FOIA concerning Dr. Melton’s resignation, the Board provides the following information, as it has been accustomed to do for many years and promised to do since the most recent Board Member elections to promote and provide transparency to its constituents. Without transparency, there can be no foundation of trust, which is critical for our staff and students – both for information and for our leadership. First, the Board considered the terms of Dr. Melton’s employment contract with regard to her resignation. Specifically, Section 11 of her Professional Employment Agreement affords the Board and Dr. Melton an opportunity to come to terms that are mutually agreeable concerning resignation. To that end, the contract provides the appropriate avenue for the Board to enter into negotiations and resolve the Superintendent’s resignation. Those steps were followed, and the Board accepted her resignation on June 14, 2021.
More pointedly, this is an established practice in our state, providing a mechanism for school boards and superintendents to mutually resolve employment matters to the satisfaction of both parties and in the best interests of school districts. This contract provision is contained in most, if not all, superintendent contracts for this purpose, and has been utilized by school districts for years. By providing a copy of Dr. Melton’s contract with this statement and by relying upon it, the Board emphasizes to the public its right and contractual obligation to resolve, in good faith, employment matters involving its one direct report – the Superintendent. This practice is often extended to other school district employees when they discuss employment-related matters with the District’s administration and is done to navigate the privacy concerns of our employees.
With that consideration in mind and having used the same in Dr. Melton’s case, the Board did not skirt FOIA nor did it conduct an improper meeting or vote. Settlement agreements and contractual negotiations, like the one contemplated by the Board and Dr. Melton are, by their nature, confidential and protected by the attorney-client privilege, which are further exempted by FOIA (S.C. Code Ann. Section 30-4-40 (5), (7); note also S.C. Code Ann. Section 30-40-70 (1) (a public body may hold a meeting closed to the public for . . . discussion of employment . . . or release of an employee . . . .
On Monday night, the agreement disclosed by Mr. White was not effective and will not become a permanent, binding document until June 22, 2021, because of certain provisions afforded to both parties. Indeed, as of the release of this statement, that agreement is not final. On that date, and no sooner, it will cease to remain a negotiable contract exempt from disclosure under FOIA and will become permanent and available to the public. That fact is well understood by the Board and Dr. Melton, and, had both Dr. Melton and the Board been provided with the opportunity to handle the announcement of her resignation accordingly, the public would have been made aware of the agreement, its contents, and Dr. Melton’s wishes simultaneously.
The Board wishes Dr. Melton the best in her future endeavors and thanks her for her leadership and professionalism during her tenure, including the current time, which has been marred by an inaccurate portrayal of recent events. Both the Board and the District are committed to ensuring a smooth transition for our staff, students, and families and will continue to provide information and updates regularly to keep the public informed.