Community members upset over school board accreditation issues

COUNTY — A recent report from an external review team found that there are issues with the School District of Pickens County’s board of trustees, and some parents in the county are demanding drastic action.

Although it recommended that the district receive accreditation, the 48-page report issued by the AdvancED external review team detailed two issues that could jeopardize the district’s accreditation status if not addressed by April 15, when an AdvancED representative has scheduled a followup visit.

The first issue, according to the report, is ensuring that decisions and actions of the school board are ethical, free of conflict of interest and in accordance with defined roles and responsibilities.  The second issue is adhering to appropriate roles and responsibilities for the board of trustees, distinguising between the system administartive roles and the board of trustees legislative roles.

The review team interviewed 285 people, including all six board members, superintendent Kelly Pew, 68 administrators and 69 parent and community stakeholders. It also visited six of the district’s 26 schools, observing classrooms and speaking to teachers, support staff and students.

AdvancED representatives reported that evidence verified that board members “do not comply with appropriate procedures and do not function as a cohesive unit to support and promote the purpose of the school system.”

The team also reported that evidence was observed regarding inappropriate contact of staff members rather than going through the superintendent, as well as conflict of interest in property matters and personnel decisions and open disagreement.

“Consensus seemed uncommon at any time with this group,” the report read. “Only when the board of trustees accept their legislative-designated roles and comply with all policies, procedures, laws, practices and regulations and function as a cohesive unit will they benefit effective district operations and student learning.”

Although the team found that the school board’s leadership and governance was lacking, it also reported “this is not an accurate reflection of the academic leadership throughout the district.”

“Their decisions and actions have not served the best interests of students because of a focus on finances beyond their role and responsibility,” the report said of school board members. “They are representatives of a great district with dedicated professionals and outstanding students who deserve their full support to ensure their ‘success in preparing for college, careers and effective citizenship.’”

In light of the report’s negative implications, community members have cried out for change, even petitioning Gov. Nikki Haley to remove the entire board of trustees. As of noon Tuesday, the petition, on, had 435 supporters.

“Since the release of the report, the board of trustees continues to demonstrate poor governance by refusing public input and failing to provide information regarding major decisions, such as the sale of school district property, despite repeated requests by concerned citizens from all sectors of the community for more information,” the petition reads. “Many district employees feel intimidated and have expressed a need for advocates to voice their concerns.  Concerned citizens and business leaders anticipate further decline in morale and teacher retention, an immediate inability to recruit new business and a devastating loss of current business in Pickens County under the current school board leadership.”

Despite the outcry, school board chairman Alex Saitta said in a letter sent to local media that the board is “moving forward” on the issues AdvancED detailed.

“I’m confident the renewal of accreditation will be finalized in a few months,” he said.

Saitta has also said AdvancED accreditation does not carry the same weight as the State Department of Education’s accreditation process.

“Our district is accredited under state and is all clear with state laws and state regulations,” he said.