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Board urges schools to hire more blacks

By Staff
Voices its displeasure with growing legal fees in dispute over funding
By DAN PARSONS
Staff Writer
Despite a covenant not to sue each other for four years, it was evident at the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners meeting Monday night that tensions between commissioners and the Beaufort County Board of Education have not eased.
Surfing on a wave of controversy regarding the school board’s hiring practices, Commissioner Jerry Langley asked his colleagues to approve a “symbolic resolution” urging the school board to seek qualified black employees. Of the 498 teachers working in the county’s schools, 39 are black. Of 14 principals in the school system, one — Victoria Mallison — is black. Mallison is the principal of the Beaufort County Ed Tech Center, an alternative school.
Commissioner Ed Booth said last year was the first year since segregation the school system did not hire at least one black educator for some position in the school system. Langley said at least two certified teachers who applied to the school system last year were not granted interviews and were subsequently hired by neighboring school systems.
The issue came to a head at the school board’s Sept. 24 meeting when a standing-room-only crowd showed up to protest the lack of black representation within the school system. Commissioner Al Klemm said he found it hard to believe there were no qualified blacks for the school system to hire.
Langley’s resolution passed unanimously, but commissioners’ displeasure with the school board continued in other business.
Commissioner Hood Richardson asked for County Manager Paul Spruill to estimate how much each board has spent on attorneys’ fees since the school board successfully sued the county for more money than the original allotment of $9,434,217 — for fiscal year 2006-2007. In July 2006, a jury awarded the school board a total of $10.2 million, $765,783 more than the initial appropriation for that school year.
In that case and a subsequent appeal by the county that is still pending, the county has spent $90,000 and the school board has spent about $160,000 on attorneys’ fees, according to Spruill.
Before the beginning of the current fiscal year, each board agreed to a four-year hiatus on legal action against the other board. Deatherage said he wants to prevent another lawsuit from being filed after the four-year agreement expires. He also made a motion to hire an “expert” to cull court transcripts for evidence that schools Superintendent Jeff Moss perjured himself under oath regarding $1 million found in a school cafeteria fund after the jury’s decision.
Deatherage’s motion was seconded by Booth, but it failed with only Richardson and Deatherage voting to appropriate $3,000 to hire the “expert.” A motion by Booth, whose wife Eltha sits on the school board, to table further discussion on the funding dispute for six months passed unanimously.