RIDGELAND, S.C. – The Jasper County School Board in South Carolina held an animated meeting earlier this month, where the board chairwoman, Berty Riley, “rammed through” a new construction proposal over obvious objections by school board members and the engaged citizens who attended the meeting.
A news blog, “Fits News,” posted a revealing five minute video which gives a clear indication of the tension in the room. The author clearly does not have much love for the “unmitigated disaster that is the Jasper County (S.C.) school district,” referring to it as the “worst-performing government-run school district in South Carolina – which features the worst government-run school system in America.” If the video posted is representative of how the school board conducts business, this author would surely agree.
The video starts out with Riley asking for approval on a “build/design” contract that had not yet been written and according to school board member Debora Butler (who received applause for her statement), no paperwork was distributed to school board members before the meeting. Another man on the board, Randy Horton, asked for his copy of the paperwork, a request that Riley dismissed, saying “[N]one of us got a copy. That copy was here when I got here,” she said.
After saying that members could “have a copy” of what appeared to be a proposal for the contract (which had not been written), Berty Riley forced a vote, looking at members who had not raised their hands, saying “I want to see these hands up, I want to see them!” After the motion passed, seemingly through intimidation, Horton asked for a motion to ask the vendor in question to “look into all new construction and the cost analysis to see which is greater.” Riley responded by saying, “[W]e have already done that…” and Horton said, “No, we haven’t.” Riley said, “Okay, anyway, we are going to move on…” drawing a loud and incredulous response from the crowd.
At one point, an elderly woman was tossed from the meeting, and Riley asked “Does anybody else want to be removed?”
Earlier this month, Horton won a lawsuit against the school district after he alleged that documents that he needed “to fulfill his responsibilities as a board member” were withheld from him, even after he filed a Freedom of Information Act request. The documents in question included “credit card statements for school board-issued credit cards for specific board members and a list of bonus checks given to non-certified staff by the Jasper County School District superintendent.” Horton was quoted as saying “…as long as the law says I have a right to this sort of information, I won’t shut up and I won’t sit down.”
In 2012, Horton was removed by police from a school board meeting after he “shouted over board Chairwoman Kathleen Snooks,” and a month later, he was picked up by police for a psychological evaluation, which presumably did not occur based on the lack of a court order, according to a deputies’ report. In April, superintendent Vashti Washington sued Horton for “slanderous and libelous remarks” which influenced, according to the lawsuit, a federal investigation which was launched against the Jasper County School District in March and is still pending.
Yet another shocking article about the Jasper County School District was posted The Island Packet, describing the case of volunteer math tutor Kevin Karg, who was dismissed by Ridgeland-Hardeeville High School principal Karen Parker after he gave a presentation to the school board “to deliver his analysis of a years-long decline in student performance…” Before Karg made his presentation, “superintendent Vashti Washington told those attending the meeting that there are many interpretations of the data and that students are much more than a test score.”
District spokeswoman Shellie Murdaugh said that Karg’s dismissal was “unrelated to his presentation,” but would not elaborate. On Monday night, a meeting of the board addressed the Kevin Karg dismissal, but the superintendent “declined to comment on why the volunteer was let go,” as reported at a local news outlet, WTOC.
Watch the meeting here: