A local school board member says public trust in the district is broken. The top administrator of Beaufort County schools changed rules, but has Dr. Jeffrey Moss overstepped his authority? NEWS 3 did some digging, filed a Freedom of Information Act request and got more than 300 pages of documents to show more than 60 administrative rules Moss changed while working for Beaufort County schools. Some are rules Board of Education members say they did not know were changed.
Some citizens began protesting back in September, when Moss changed the district’s nepotism rule before his wife was hired. Darlene Moss was hired as the Director of Innovation, salaried at $90,000. She resigned days after she was hired.
Greater Bluffton Republican Club President Joe Iaco then began petitioning for Moss’ resignation, or that he be fired by the Board.
“It’s really heartfelt, how hurt people are by what’s happened,” Iaco says. “You know, the hiring of your wife into a role like that surely displays a lack of judgment.”
The change to the rule on nepotism removed the clause, ‘The Board will not accept a recommendation for the appointment of a family member of the Superintendent for a position in the District Office, as a principal or assistant principal or for any other position directly supervised or evaluated by the Superintendent.’
When enraged citizens spoke out in a September 21 Board meeting, against the rule change and Moss’ wife’s hiring, Moss apologized to the Board. He said he would do what he could to restore credibility.
As for resigning though, Moss tells NEWS 3, “Are you asking me whether or not I’m going to do what the petition is asking? The answer to that is no.”
The nepotism rule change is one of more than 60 rules Moss changed without oversight from the 11 member school board. Board member Michael Rivers is concerned.
NEWS 3: “Of more than these 300 pages here, did you know about any of these changes before we brought them to your attention?”
Michael Rivers: “Some of them, I was more aware of than others. Obviously, the nepotism wasn’t shared totally at first, the changes.”
NEWS 3: “Do you believe the school board should have known more about these changes?”
Michael Rivers: “Yes. To answer your question it’s yes, but I think it’s obvious that we weren’t told about everything as soon as it happened.”
Browsing through the documents of changes to administrative rules, Rivers came across a couple he hoped to research more. Rivers voiced concern that one change eliminated parents’ ability to appeal a suspension or expulsion decision to the school board. *However, the District tells NEWS 3 there is still an appeal process; the rule was among regulations that overlapped, that the Superintendent simply consolidated those regulations and a parents’ ability to appeal to the Board remains.
Rivers says the Board didn’t see these changes in writing before they were already made. But Moss does have the authority to make these changes without Board oversight.
“Administrative rules do not require Board approval under the strategic governance policy that we operate under,” Moss says.
However, when the nepotism rule change enraged some people, the Board decided to have Moss go through special committees and the Board when changing rules. The Board will also write its own nepotism policy.
“We are working on it. We just don’t have one in place yet,” Board Chairwoman Mary Cordray says. “We already have a process in place that requires us to approve all hires on a monthly basis, going forward.”
Rivers believes writing this new policy is the Board’s first step in restoring trust with the public. He wants more public voices heard, too.
“Their voice, it does matter. Or, it should matter,” Rivers says.
NEWS 3: “Do you believe the Superintendent should resign?”
Michael Rivers: “The quick answer is yes. But I think we have to weigh whose best interest is being served.”
NEWS 3: “Should the strategic governance be reevaluated?”
Michael Rivers:”I believe that it’s something we should explore, yes. To not do it would be almost negligent. It was never designed to be without checks and balances.”
NEWS 3 asked each Board member the same questions, and received a response from the Chair, stating some board members request to review Board structure in the next work session, which could include discussion of Strategic Governance.
*Note: this article was updated on November 13, after the story’s original air date, to reflect the District’s information that the Superintendent’s rule change to suspension and expulsion procedures did not delete an appeal process.