Bickering boils over on R2 board

COLUMBIA – Divisiveness continues on the Richland Two school board, with a local pastor with close ties to the school board chairman using a trope with racial and sexist themes to describe another member of the board.

A recent post to the Facebook account of Pastor Chris Leevy Johnson criticizes Richland Two board trustee Lindsay Agostini for voting against the appointment of fellow trustee James Shadd, calling her “Karen,” a pejorative used to describe entitled white women.

Shadd is tagged in the post. Both men are African-American.

“Congratulations to my classmate since kindergarten at Greenview Elementary James Shadd for being elected Chairman of the Richland County School District Two School Board tonight!” the June 30 post reads.

“He ran unopposed but the vote was unfortunately 6-1! Please watch the video and let us remember KAREN did not vote for our brother (or to extend the contract of the Superintendent [sic] which was another 6-1 vote) this coming November!” the post continues.

Agostini’s term is up in November and she is seeking re-election.

While the board frequently votes in unison, Agostini is sometimes an outlier and sometimes questions Superintendent Barron Davis’ leadership, drawing the ire of other board members loyal to Davis.

Shadd, who’s tagged in Johnson’s ‘Karen’ post, declined to comment and referred The Voice to Johnson.

“You might want to talk to him about that since he’s the author of this post,” Shadd said.

Johnson couldn’t be reached for comment.

Agostini said she was disappointed to learn about the social media post noting she’s previously voted for African-Americans and women for Richland Two board officer positions. She also voted for Teresa Holmes to serve as vice-president and Cheryl Caution- as secretary.

“It [the Facebook post] was sent to me by a friend who was upset by the post,” she said. “I’ve never, ever spoken to (Johnson) before that. I supported (Teresa) Holmes for vice-chair and (Cheryl) Caution-Parker for secretary.”

Agostini voted in June against Shadd’s appointment following reports in The Voice newspaper that he owes more than $50,000 in tax liens to the S.C. Department of Revenue, according to the DOR’s online database.

Agostini criticized by Barron

At the Aug. 11 board meeting, Davis proposed a board policy requiring the full board to approve an individual trustee’s requests for records if the requests “are determined by the superintendent to be unusual in nature, by reason of their content, subject matter or volume/size. The board voted 6-1 to adopt the policy, with Agostini voting against.

Agostini objected to the policy, which appeared to be directed at her, noting that the state Attorney General’s office has previously opined that elected officials have a right to request district records in the performance of their duties.

Superintendent Dr. Baron Davis replied by saying the AG’s opinion applies only to fiduciary matters.

The new policy was proposed after Agostini had earlier requested documents from Davis. Davis said her request for the documents was improper because it sought staff communications, which he said goes against board policy.

Agostini said the records she sought were fiduciary in nature because they related to stipends the district provided to media centers and classrooms to buy supplies. She requested the documents, she said, after she received conflicting answers from Dr. Davis about the stipends, specifically regarding whether or not the funds had to be spent by June 30.

At a special board meeting Jan. 7, 2020, when Agostini asked if the money had to be spent by the end of June 2020, Davis responded, “It does not.”

Davis wrote otherwise in a Feb. 7 email obtained by The Voice.

This correspondence and others are among the records The Voice recently obtained from the district through the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

On Aug. 24, the district released a Feb. 21, 2020 email from Agostini to Davis. In the heavily redacted email, Agosinti told Davis she felt the issue of the teacher and media center stipends did fall under board governance. She reminded Davis that he previously stated the money didn’t need to be spent by June 2020.

“Your response may have had an impact on board votes and as I have been told, is inconsistent with administration communications as it pertains to media specialists spending deadline of June 2020,” the email states. “I would like to see if administration communications align with information provided to the board as it relates to the budget surplus”.

Included in the records obtained by The Voice were Agostini’s individual evaluation of the superintendent, who received an overall “Distinguished” evaluation and a one-year contract extension.

Agostini marked Davis down for several reasons, including overextending himself with out-of-town conferences, using the 2019-2020 convocation to “justify and advocate” a pay increase he received that year, and inequitable treatment of board members.

She specifically took issue with Davis adopting a practice of carbon copying other board members on all email communications with Agostini. Davis said he did so for “transparency purposes,” documents state.

Documents also show that in October 2019, Davis took issue with Agostini attending a meeting of the Superintendent’s Faculty Advisory Council without his knowledge.

Davis said Agostini’s attendance is “not aligned with board conduct outlined in multiple board policies,” but he didn’t identify any policies that specifically bar board members from attending advisory council meetings.

“As this action has the potential to undermine the productive working relationship between myself and the board, I feel I must share the following concerns with the entire board,” Davis wrote.

Agostini wrote that she was unaware of any prohibition on board members attending the meetings.