School board mum on indictments

  • Thursday, February 20, 2014

Dan Brown/Gazette Longtime Berkeley County School board member Wilhelmina Moore was honored for her 20 years of service to the Berkeley County School District. Presenting Ms. Moore with a plaque were Superintendent Rodney Thompson and Board Chairman Kent Murray.

During the Berkeley County School District’s Feb. 11 meeting, Kent Murray, school board chairman issued a brief statement regarding the indictment of BCSD Communications Director Amy Kovach earlier that day.

Kovach has been placed on administrative leave with pay, Murray announced.

He added that the district would not comment on an ongoing investigation.

“We are unable to comment further,” he said in the statement.

Kovach was indicted for her involvement in the district’s “Yes for Schools” campaign to garner support for a $198 million bond referendum, a referendum that voters passed two years ago.

At last week’s meeting, school board member Phillip Obie raised the question of the problems the district faces regarding the paying of legal fees of the three district employees under investigation (Kovach, Superintendent Rodney Thompson, and Assistant Superintendent Archie Franchini).

“We have long maintained that until circumstances changed the district would pay the legal fees of those three employees under investigation,” Obie said. “Well, now, for Employee Number One, circumstances have changed. So, do we stop paying the legal fees of Employee Number One since there was an indictment handed down and continue paying for Employees Two and Three because their circumstances haven’t changed yet?

“The district took the stance to cover the legal fees until such information was made public to change the circumstances. Well, now information has been made available to change the circumstances ... in the form of an indictment, so the payment of legal fees should cease in that regard.”

No decision was reached during the executive session portion of the board meeting.

The issue of the legal fees was brought up at a recent school board meeting by Jeff Reuer of Summerville, who addressed the board in public comments.

“That was the question I had last year,” Reuer said at last week’s meeting, “How are we going to get that money back now that charges have been filed?”

The tab on legal expenses is approaching six figures.

“I’m afraid as taxpayers we’ll never see that money again,” Reuer said. “I warned them last year about this. At the May 14 meeting of last year I raised the question about the legal fees and back then the amount was $30,000, and they didn’t answer my question then. I asked them to reconsider and they didn’t.”

Berkeley County Republican Party Chairman Terry Hardesty addressed the board during the citizens’ comments portion of the meeting following Chariman Murray’s statement regarding the matter of the legal fees.

“I think it’s highly improper for the board to use public funds to pay the attorney fees for employees under criminal investigation,” he said. “I strongly urge the board to reconsider this misuse of public funds.”

In other school board business:

• The board took its first look at the upcoming 2014-2015 budget in a workshop held prior to the regularly scheduled board meeting.

Items discussed during the initial budget meeting included potential revenue sources for the coming fiscal year such as an increase in the Act 388 Tier III Revenue, and increased student costs with the increase due to the 659 new students attending Berkeley County Schools.

A base student cost of $2,101 per student would generate more than $1,3 million in revenue.

Also discussed were unknown pending expenditures such as the increase in health insurance for district employees.

• The district honored longtime board member Wilhelmina Moore with a proclamation for her 20 years of service on the Berkeley County School Board.

“I’m very pleased with this award,” Moore said. “And I hope I’m around for a long time to receive many more.”

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