R2 Superintendent defends travel expenses

COLUMBIA – Tampa, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. are among the locations where Richland Two Superintendent Dr. Baron Davis traveled in the name of district business over the past two budget cycles, spending more than $15,700, according to documents obtained by The Voice.

In 2018-2019, Davis spent $10,076.50 on travel-related expenses, or enough to buy 30 iPads for students each year.

Travel-related expenses in the current budget cycle totaled $5,635.08 as of March 23, about a week after the state issued a state of emergency in response to the coronavirus pandemic, documents show.

The issue of superintendent travel arose during the school board’s February 11 meeting, when Richland County resident Gus Philpot questioned a California trip Davis was planning to take in March.

Davis was invited to act as a panelist at the League of Innovative Schools annual conference in Los Angeles, California. The March 23-25 conference has since been rescheduled to October due to the coronavirus, or COVID-19.

Philpot thought the trip was wasteful and that Davis’ time would be better spent working in Richland County.

“Superintendent Davis belongs at his desk in Richland School District Two,” Philpot told the board. “His speaking to members of the League of Innovative Schools in California on the equity initiatives underway in Richland Two provides no benefit or value to Richland Two.”

Philpot didn’t think Davis’ travel costs were particularly exorbitant, but also thought number of travel expenses was high.

“I am shocked by the number of out of town events and conferences,” Philpot said. “It can’t be that important for the superintendent to go to all of these conferences.”

In a prepared statement, Davis said professional development is part of the district’s strategic plan. Professional development is also a part of the superintendent’s evaluation criteria, the statement said.

“It’s been a long standing practice in Richland Two that the superintendent attends professional learning opportunities with members of the board,” the statement reads. “The superintendent is charged with working with the school board to develop and implement policies that define organizational expectations and to establish and maintain effective channels of communication with board members.

“As a result, the superintendent regularly attends professional development conferences with school board members as a way to meet performance standards that are part of the superintendent’s evaluation criteria,” the statement continued.

Many of Davis’ business trips were to destinations that double as major tourism hubs, such as Hilton Head, Charleston and Myrtle Beach, according to district documents.

Other expenses were associated with conferences and events in major American cities at least 470 miles away, including Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Tampa and Washington, D.C., documents show.

By comparison, Davis’ travel expenses greatly eclipse those of his counterpart to the north, where Fairfield County Superintendent Dr. J.R. Green spent $3,042.72 on travel during 2018-2019, according to online budget records.

But Davis’ spending is also comparable to at least three present Fairfield County school board members: Sylvia Harrison ($9,585.02), Henry Miller ($9,046.58) and Darreyl Davis ($8,453.37), records show.