Head of Sumter Co. schools resigns

bbunch@theitem.comJuly 23, 2013 

Sumter School District Superintendent Randolph Bynum has resigned, bringing an end to a tumultuous two-year period as the consolidated public school district’s inaugural head.

Bynum’s resignation, announced Tuesday, will become effective Aug. 30 at the latest. According to Board of Trustees Chairman Keith Schultz, how long the superintendent will remain in his position up until that time will be at the discretion of the trustees.

Efforts to reach Bynum were unsuccessful, and district spokeswoman Shelly Galloway said she had been informed there would be no statement from the superintendent at this time.

Since Bynum is resigning, and was not terminated, the announcement does not trigger the agreement in his contract that would grant the superintendent a nine-months severance package, or $131,250 of his $175,000 annual salary. However, Galloway said the district and Bynum are expected to reach a mutual financial agreement. “The exact terms will be negotiated,” Galloway said.

Public pressure for Bynum to either leave or be removed from his office had been building for some time, and earlier this month the school board held a special meeting where, after a six-hour executive session, it listed a series of issues facing the district they wanted the superintendent to address. These included “various issues at Sumter High School, the SWEET 16 program and related copyright issues, community relations, numerous employee issues, and morale.”

Bynum responded by addressing two of the issues that had prompted consternation for many local educators, saying the district’s SWEET 16 teacher evaluation system would be discontinued and that the expansion of the district’s standards-based report-card system into third grade would be delayed by a year.

For many education activists outside the administration, these were responses considered either insufficient or enacted too late. Rancor continued to build against Bynum in recent weeks, culminating at Monday night’s school board meeting at Lakewood High School, which about 700 people attended, most of whom were vocal in their opposition to Bynum remaining superintendent while holding signs also expressing their opinion.

“This is truly a day of celebration for the students and educators of Sumter,” said Brenda Atkins, a local activist who spoke at Monday’s meeting. A parent of Sumter High School students, Atkins said she would next like to see the district return the teachers transferred away from the district’s largest school at the end of the year to Sumter High before the upcoming school year that begins in August.

“Those teachers have a vested interest in that school. They love that school, and they love those students,” Atkins said. “It’s totally unfair for them to be thrown into an unfamiliar environment just because they said something that wasn’t approved.” She, as many activists had in recent weeks, also called for the removal of Sterling Harris, principal of Sumter High.

As of Tuesday evening, no other district officials serving in Bynum’s administration had announced they would be stepping down from their positions. Schultz said he expects there could possibly be other changes to the district’s administrative personnel in the near future.

“Do I think our district will look the same next year as it looks today? Probably not,” Schultz said, although he added decisions regarding staffing will fall to the next superintendent, and that the board is in the very early stages of finding a replacement for Bynum.

Schultz said ultimately the decision to resign was made by the superintendent.

“Clearly, the initiative to resign was Mr. Bynum’s initiative. So, how long he has been contemplating resigning, I have no idea,” Schultz said. “With regard to the issues concerning our district, how long have those conversations been going on? I would submit to that’s been some time.”

Even with the announcement, the board will still hold a special meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday at the district headquarters on Wilson Hall Road. The only item on the agenda is an executive session during which trustees will discuss “employment matters” and receive legal advice.

Several of the other board members were contacted to respond to the announcement but deferred all comments to Schultz, who said the change in leadership could be a definite step toward addressing issues before the district.

“I’d say rather significant. I’m not going to put a percentage on it, but I’d say it’s rather significant,” Schultz said.

Contact Braden Bunch at (803) 774-1201.

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