Richland 1 superintendent gets contract but transparency remains an issue

The Richland 1 school board formalized its contract with its new superintendent Tuesday night but not without some pushback from the community.

The board emerged from executive session shortly before 10 p.m and announced its final decision to hire Craig Witherspoon, a former Birmingham, Ala., administrator. The position was advertised as paying at least $205,000 but the terms of the contract were not revealed.

The vote was 6-1 with commissioner Beatrice King voting no, saying she objected to one of the elements in the document. Witherspoon has not signed the contract yet, board chair Cheryl Harris said.

Some parents had urged the board in late February to allow more time to investigate Witherspoon, who had endured a stormy tenure in Alabama.

But the board voted 5-2 to proceed.

On Tuesday, Stephen Oliver, the parent of two children at Brockman Elementary, said some in the community continue to be disturbed at the way the selection was handled.

“Our objections are not to Dr. Witherspoon in particular – to be candid, we do not know much about Dr. Witherspoon,” Oliver said. “The concern has been and continues to be a lack of transparency, a lack of collaboration, and a lack of respect for the ‘voice of the people.’”

The issue of transparency extended beyond the superintendent search. Several parents complained that the board was preparing Tuesday night to act on a new athletics facilities plan without sharing any details.

“We come tonight to talk about an issue we don’t know anything about,” said Vance Stricklin. “It’s offensive.”

The board agreed to postpone action and host a series of meetings at schools starting next week.

Richland 1 budget director Ed Carlon said the athletic and facilities plan will cost $60 million and includes proposals for a new stadium at W.J. Keenan High School, renovations of existing stadiums and constructions of some new fields.

The district would issue $60 million in general obligation bonds. Of that, $39.5 million would be devoted to athletics construction and renovations, with the remaining $20.5 million spent for capital improvements at district schools.

Related stories from The State in Columbia SC