Baker to get 1 year’s pay

Questions surround retirement settlement after documents released

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The Sumter School District Board of Trustees entered into a settlement agreement with former Superintendent Frank Baker before his retirement, but it appears all action was taken behind closed doors and the public was never notified, according to various documentation.

In response to a Freedom of Information Act request for employment contractual agreements and adjustments made between the school board and Baker regarding his retirement announcement, a school district spokesperson provided on Thursday a settlement agreement dated July 26 between the two parties that will pay Baker one year's salary, or $185,711.40, for consulting services to the district through June 30, 2018.

However, during special-called board meetings from late June and July, the board never voted in open session on a settlement agreement with Baker.

"If the school board never voted in open session to direct a person to sign the settlement agreement with Baker, then whoever did sign such an agreement likely did so without the authority of the school board," said Taylor Smith, an attorney for the South Carolina Press Association. "Without the authority of the board, the board and district may not be bound by the written agreement Baker thinks he struck with them."

Additionally, the spokesperson included what's described in a cover letter as "a copy of the statement read by the Board chair on July 18, 2017, regarding the mutual agreement between the Board and Dr. J. Frank Baker that he would not continue as Superintendent beyond July 31, 2017."

However, the "press statement" provided - which is dated July 18, 2017, at the bottom - is not the press statement that Chairman the Rev. Daryl McGhaney read at the July 18 board meeting, announcing the mutual agreement that Baker would retire.

That original press statement was also emailed to "all district users" shortly thereafter on July 18 and to The Sumter Item the next day, July 19.

The "press statement" received on Thursday in the FOIA response - with the July 18, 2017, date stamp - includes a sentence that reads "Dr. Baker has graciously agreed to provide consulting services as needed to resolve any ongoing matters in the District."

After raising the issue of the differing press statements to the district spokesperson, Mary Sheridan, on Thursday, she recalled the statement provided with the FOIA request. Sheridan verified the correct press statement was read by McGhaney on July 18 and was sent to The Sumter Item on July 19.

Messages left Thursday for McGhaney were not returned as of 8 p.m.