R2 board votes 12.3% pay hike for Super

Board Split Over Size of Raise, Polling

COLUMBIA – It’s been a profitable summer for Dr. Baron Davis, superintendent of the Richland Two school district.

On July 1, Davis’ salary rose from $191,904 to $197,661 after he accepted a STEP increase coupled with a 1 percent raise the district gave administrators.

Six weeks later, the Richland Two Board of trustees tacked on another 12.3 percent, elevating the superintendent’s base pay to $221,973, fifth highest in the state, according to public records.

William Royster, superintendent of Greenville County schools, leads the state at $253,636, followed by Gerrita Postlewait (Charleston-$233,000), Rick Maxey (Horry-$230,869) and Darryl Owings (Spartanburg 6-$224,924).

On Aug. 13, the Richland Two board voted 5-2 in favor of Davis’ increase, which includes a two-year contract extension and a 2.5 percent increase in annuity contributions. Davis also can only be dismissed by supermajority (5-2) vote.

Trustees Monica Elkins-Johnson and Lindsay Agostini voted in opposition.

Elkins-Johnson said aside from objecting to the supermajority clause, she supports Davis. 

“I want to publicly apologize to you Dr. Davis because I support 75 percent of your contract. There is only one item that I have an issue with and that is the supermajority,” she said. 

Elkins-Johnson also claimed Board Chairman James Manning polled board members.

“We were polled by the chair. He made a phone call and polled the board prior to, so I will not be supporting this,” Elkins-Johnson said during the meeting.

Manning said he did occasionally speak with board members about the contract, but never polled anybody.

While she voted against the contract, Agostini also said she didn’t get the perception that Manning polled other board members.

“He did not poll me. He and I had a conversation about where I stood, as I frequently have discussions with other board members to discuss or seek clarity,” Agostini said in phone interview Tuesday. “It’s not uncommon for us to speak outside of a board meeting.”

She did voice concerns about the supermajority clause, as well as the size of Davis’ raise. 

“I, too, am unable to support the new contract based upon the supermajority vote,” Agostini said on Aug. 13. “I also have a concern about setting precedent with such a large salary increase.”

Agostini said she would have been more comfortable approving an increase that would have placed Davis in the $200,000 and $205,000 a year range.

“I don’t have an exact percentage,” she said Tuesday. “I do believe that he deserves a raise.”

Trustee Teresa Holmes also thought the supermajority clause was improper, though she ultimately voted for the contract.

“I am not in agreement with the five-vote (clause in the) contract,” Holmes said. “When we make policies, we can’t make policies for one specific person.”

State law doesn’t specifically prohibit public bodies from instituting supermajority thresholds to approve a measure.

In 2017, an S.C. Attorney General Office opinion said a Greenville County ordinance requiring a supermajority vote to enact a fee paying for a new communications system didn’t violate state law.

“Courts have consistently recognized the basic principal that a local ordinance, just like a state statute, is presumed to be valid as enacted unless or until a court declares it to be invalid,” the opinion states.

Manning said the supermajority clause has been in previous Richland Two superintendent contracts, and it’s only fair to include it in Davis’ contract.

“Dr. Davis has proven himself to be an exceptional leader,” Manning said. “We were simply bringing his contract in line with where we had other superintendents.”

As to the raise, Manning said Davis deserved 12.3 percent because of his vast responsibilities leading one of the state’s biggest districts.

“You could look that as a huge increase or you can look at that he’s an at will employee who serves at the will of the board and can be terminated at any point,” Manning said. “There is some additional risk in his position that most of our staff do not have.”

The raise Davis received is substantially more than the 2.5 percent increase he got in September 2018. It’s also greater than the 4 percent raises – newer teachers received more – included in the state’s 2019-2020 budget.

Lisa Ellis, a board member for SC for ED, a teacher advocacy group that led a State House rally in May calling for higher educator pay, said school districts in general should dedicate less money to administration and more into the classroom.

“We worked hard at the state level all year to try to get that salary increase,” Ellis said. “Money is not really getting into the classroom. [School districts] are spending money at the district office. For teachers, that’s a really frustrating place for them to spend it.”