R2 Superintendent keeps board travel funds secret

COLUMBIA – Richland Two school district officials spent more than half an hour of the April 26 school board meeting discussing whether board members would have access to the details of board spending on travel and training.

This came following the revelation that some board members had overspent to the point of exceeding the board’s total budgeted amount, despite other board members having spent less than their individual allotment.

“I have received your request for information and, as I stated, I don’t feel that it’s appropriate… to give another board member a copy of another board member’s travel,” said Superintendent Baron Davis, who went on to say that he would provide a board total but that individual expenditure amounts would only be shared with individual board members.

“I would not share anybody’s personal financial use of funds with anybody else without their permission,” Davis said. “I just didn’t feel like that was the appropriate thing to do.”

The discussion followed a request by board member Lindsay Agostini that the information be shared.

This occurred following an email exchange in which board member Monica Scott sought a $150 travel expense that she anticipated would be covered by available funds.  

Scott, who is scheduled to attend a conference, is seeking to spend an additional day in Horry County following the event in order to visit schools that have metal detectors.

Metal detectors are currently a hot issue in Richland Two. They’re being discussed in response to concerns about safety in schools and the broader community.

During the meeting, Scott was told that because the board as a whole had exceeded its budget for travel and training, a vote to increase the board’s travel and training budget would be required for the extra day to be approved.

During the meeting, neither Davis nor the board members seemed aware that according to state law, records pertaining to the spending of taxpayer dollars are open not only to board members but also to the general public.

According to South Carolina’s Freedom of Information Act, “The General Assembly finds that it is vital in a democratic society that public business be performed in an open and public manner so that citizens shall be advised of the performance of public officials and of the decisions that are reached in public activity and in the formation of public policy.”

Under the law, public officials who refuse to make public information available in accordance with an acceptable time frame can be sued in court, required to pay legal costs, and fined.

After Davis said that the board as a whole was over budget, board member Lashonda McFadden asked how it was possible for board members to overspend when each is only allotted a certain amount and all travel must be approved before the spending takes place.

Ultimately, Davis shouldered the blame.

“I should’ve done a better job of monitoring board travel,” Davis said. “I assumed that board members were watching their own travel allocations and keeping up with their own budgets. I won’t make that mistake again.”

Board chair Teresa Holmes, in a seeming admission of guilt, blamed Covid.

“Obviously we have just come out of Covid, and every travel that we have taken, those people that have traveled, has been extra expensive for Covid,” Holmes said, “so there are a lot of people who did not keep up with the budget.”

After Scott once again requested the $150 needed to complete her planned travel, Holmes called the issue “mundane” and said it could be handled.

“This doesn’t need to be addressed all out here like this,” Holmes said of the issue, suggesting that the board may choose to increase this year’s travel and training budget due to the pandemic.

Agostini reiterated her original request to receive the information about board members’ travel spending in a written report ahead of the next meeting.

“We are a public entity, and we have no personal funds,” Agostini said. “Anybody can ask for this information at any time, so it should be fully disclosed to the board how much each board member has spent.”

Davis, while finally agreeing to provide information in a board brief, doubled down on his discomfort about sharing public information with board members.

In later comments, board Vice Chair James Manning mildly defended the administration, apologizing to the public not for the lack of transparency in government, but for the time spent discussing the issue.

“We spent more time on that one issue – on our own board issue – than on any student issue that’s come before us,” Manning said. “The only word I can use is embarrassing that we get this heated, that we get this back-and-forth over these issues.”

He did not, however, apologize for the superintendent’s effort to withhold basic public information from the elected members of the board.

Comments

  1. Terrence says

    As usual, this is hyperbole over money that is in a line item for travel. Picayune as usual. Barbara, this is what you got from the meeting?

  2. As of April 30, 2022 the Board’s total budget for trustees’ travel & training expenses ($49,000) still had $3,476.89 remaining. Not sure why Supt. Davis told the board and the public that the budget was over-spent.
    Scott was over $2,938.15; Holmes was over $2,726.37; McKie was over $444.83; Manning was over $172.60. The Expense Form requires two approvals, before somebody processes a payment.

  3. Gary Ginn says

    Someone needs to remind Dr. Davis and Chairman Holmes that this is R2 money not their personal money . They didn’t earn it. It’s the taxpayers and parents money. We expect them to be good stewards with our money and transparent in how they spend it. NOT THEIR MONEY

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