R2 gives super generally high marks

COLUMBIA – Superintendent Dr. Baron Davis received generally favorable scores on his annual evaluation, though one Richland Two board member marked Davis down in a few key categories. Two others were critical of the board majority’s decision to not allow board members to discuss a requirement that only a supermajority (5-2) of the board could dismiss Davis.

Board trustee Lindsay Agostini gave Davis 2s and 3s on a 1-5 scale in categories assessing communication and employee retention, according to documents obtained by The Voice. 

Agostini was the only board trustee submitting an individual evaluation. The other six board members evaluated Davis collectively. 

On the joint evaluation, Davis received 4s and 5s in virtually every category, resulting in a total score of 139 points out of a possible 150. Davis received an overall “distinguished” rating.

In a letter summarizing Davis’ performance, board chair James Manning lauded Davis for his professionalism and communication skills.

“We appreciate your responsiveness to the board and the relationship you have developed with each board member,” the letter states. “You respond to our communications in a timely manner, and you take care of issues that are brought to your attention.”

Agostini felt differently. 

She rated Davis “2” out of “5” on a performance standard that says “the Superintendent works with the school board to develop and implement policies that define organizational expectations.” In the comments section, Agostini noted the presence of typos and grammatical errors.

Agostini also gave Davis a “2” on “identifies, analyzes and resolves problems using effective problem-solving techniques.” She wrote “defensive” and “knee jerk reaction to support staff.”

Davis was also marked down in teacher recruitment and retention efforts. “Not finding out why people are leaving,” Agostini wrote. She also added the phrase “sorority/fraternity,” public records show.

At the last board meeting, trustees voted 5-2 to extend Davis’ contract another two years and award a 12.3 percent pay raise, a substantially greater raise than the 4 percent increase most teachers received in the state budget.

The board also voted to increase Davis’ annual annuity contribution by 2.5 percent every year for five years, beginning in September 2020. The perks are provided he receives at least a “satisfactory” rating on future annual evaluations.

Davis’ base pay is now $221,973, fifth highest in the state, according to public records.

Trustees also inserted a clause that says the superintendent can only be dismissed by a supermajority (5-2) vote of the board, stoking pushback from some board members. They thought any vote to dismiss should be 4-3.

Agostini and Monica Elkins-Johnson voted against the contract revisions on those grounds. Trustee Teresa Holmes also voiced concerns about the supermajority provision, but ultimately voted for the contract.

Elkins-Johnson voiced additional concerns that “we were not given an opportunity to discuss this matter,” referencing the supermajority clause. She said the board majority would not pull that part of the contract out for a separate discussion.

“Because the board will not allow us to pull one item out, I’m going to have to decline the entire contract,” Elkins-Johnson said. “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 super majority,” Elkins-Johnson continued. “Because the board has refused to allow us to pull that out, my vote tonight will be a no.”

Board member Teresa Holmes also opposed the supermajority and voiced concern that the board wouldn’t permit a separate discussion on the clause, but ultimately voted for the contract.

“As Dr. Elkins said, we could not pull that particular part out,” she said. “I am not in agreement with the five-vote contract. We have a vote for four for everything that we do.”

Manning said there was ample opportunity to discuss the contract. The letter summarizing Davis’ performance states the board evaluation was discussed in executive sessions held on July 23, Aug. 6 and Aug. 13.

“We did have the opportunity to discuss this as a board in executive session before coming to a final decision,” Manning said.

“We did not have an opportunity as a board to discuss salary or concerns,” Elkins-Johnson responded. “We had an opportunity as a board to discuss our concerns only to the chair.”

In a telephone interview with The Voice, Manning said supermajority clauses are not unprecedented in Richland Two, noting one was included in a proposed policy revision that the board considered in January.

A proposed revision to Policy BD would’ve allowed the board, by supermajority vote, to strip a board member of their officer position “for cause.”

Manning, Elkins-Johnson and Agostini voted for the policy revision, according to board documents.

The vote failed, but not because of the supermajority clause. Some board members objected to ambiguity over the phrase “for cause.”

The policy was introduced at a time when two trustees facing legal and ethics issues could have been impacted by the policy changes.

Former board chair Amelia McKie owes nearly $57,000 in ethics fines for failing to file several campaign reports. A judgment has since been filed in Richland County Circuit Court.

In January, Elkins-Johnson, then vice-chair of the board, was charged after an altercation following a board meeting. The case is pending.