Superintendent changed nepotism rule:

BC Schools


Questions arise following wife’s hire for new position

BY REBECCA LURYE
rlurye@islandpacket.comSeptember 14, 2015

Superintendent Jeff Moss changed the Beaufort County School District’s rules on nepotism this summer, just after the school system advertised an administrative position that his wife was eventually hired to fill, according to several district officials.

The district’s Staff Ethics rule, dated September 2015, is identical to its last revision in 2010 except for the elimination of one element that may have excluded Darlene Moss as a candidate for her new position of director of innovation.

The old section, provided to The Island Packet/Beaufort Gazette on Monday, read: “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.”

Darlene Moss, who began work Monday, declined to comment for this story. She serves under chief instructional services officer Dereck Rhoads and brings nearly 30 years of experience to the position, which was restructured from the chief academic improvement officer.

The remaining staff ethics rule requires only that family members not directly supervise each other — defined as having the ability to hire, evaluate or recommend someone for termination. They also cannot work in the same school building or administrative unit — such as finance or food services — without approval from the superintendent. Married district office employees can work in the same building because it is the chain of command, not the building they work in, that causes potential conflicts of interest, according to Moss and other school officials.
Jeff Moss, who is responsible for any changes to the rule, said Monday he does not remember when he eliminated the old language or when he told the board of education that his wife had applied for the new job.

He received a copy of the job description to review on July 22, and the opening was posted online on Aug. 1.

School District attorney Drew Davis said Moss would have changed the provision on nepotism no earlier than August.

Jeff Moss said he did not know of his wife’s plans to apply for the position when he changed the district rule.

When asked whether he had any reservations that her application or hire could cause a backlash, Moss said, “I’m not going to discuss my wife.”

Moss, who said he was not involved in the hiring process, added that he has no concerns about the appearance of nepotism in the nature or timing of her hire.

“There’s nothing I did that was dishonest or dishonorable,” he said. “I think everything I’ve done since I’ve been here is above board and transparent.”

When asked why he thought others questioned his decision, he said, “I don’t ever try to figure out what’s in someone else’s mind. I base all my decisions on what’s best for the 22,000 kids we serve, and everyone else can be a Monday morning quarterback.”

‘Comfortable’ with the rules

Davis, the district attorney, argues the old Staff Ethics rule is one of many outdated regulations and was rightfully updated because it can be interpreted in two ways.
He and district spokesman Jim Foster say they read the provision as prohibiting hires only when family members would be directly supervised by the superintendent, whether they are district employees, principals or assistant principals, or hold any other position.

They maintained that explanation despite the fact that assistant principals are directly supervised by their principals rather than the superintendent.

Furthermore, Jeff Moss says he never tried to interpret the policy but simply rewrote it to mirror the language he has used in other school systems.

“Those are the rules that I’m comfortable with,” said Moss, who has revised more than 60 regulations since joining the district in 2013. “Those are the rules that have served me everywhere I’ve been,” he said.

A comparison shows that Moss made no other changes in the Staff Ethics rules except for replacing “District” with “BCSD.”

‘Resentment’ and questions

The change in the nepotism provision aside, several community members and local officials are questioning Darlene Moss’ hiring.

On The Island Packet/Beaufort Gazette’s website, District 8 Beaufort County Councilman Rick Caporale commented that it violated the public’s trust.

“Many people resent this sort of thing, regardless of whether it’s legal or allowed by rules or policies,” said Caporale, a former Board of Education member.

Current board member JoAnn Orischak, who represents District 11, said that based on the concerns of her constituents, she has informally suggested the human resources committee review the district’s rule.

“We’re all being asked questions,” she said Monday.

Chairman Bill Evans, who said he has no issue with the hire, also said he is sure the board will discuss nepotism at an upcoming board meeting, though not likely at Tuesday afternoon’s scheduled session.

The board has the authority to create a nepotism policy, which would not require approval from Jeff Moss, according to Davis.

Evans said early Monday he is comfortable with the district’s current rules regarding nepotism, including the provisions that prohibit married teachers from working in the same school.
As a former principal, Evans said he always had at least two couples working for him and once experienced some pushback from a spouse when the other was disciplined.

“That is the primary reason why you try to not have people in the same building, at least in my experience,” Evans said.

He added that the same issue does not apply in the district office, where different units answer to different people, as opposed to one principal.

“My number one priority is to get the best people we can for positions,” Evans said. “I think (Jeff Moss) gave Dr. Rhoads all the independence he needs in order to run his department properly. I see it because I see them interact a lot and I trust their relationship.”

Jeff Moss said Monday he would be willing to consider granting exceptions for married teachers to work together but has received no such requests.

Still, he and Orischak, a former teacher, agreed that some residents have expressed frustration with the hire.

“I don’t think it’s my role to ignore it,” Orischak said. “It’s to respond to it.”

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