Dear candidates and elected officials, we need problem solvers, and leaders who can articulate a real vision, not name callers, red meat throwers, and those that perpetuate the "us" vs "them" narrative.
I am tired of the soundbites, tweets, and Facebook posts that rile up your followers but do nothing to solve the real challenges. I am tired of candidates that do not take the opportunity to educate their supporters about the real issues and root causes. I am tired of candidates and politicians that take the easy road and simply blame others. This is not a D thing, nor an R thing, nor a progressive thing, nor conservative thing. It's a leadership thing, pure and simple. This is about bringing people together to solve problems.
For example, this past February, a Democratic candidate for governor suggested South Carolina gubernatorial candidate James Smith should be disqualified based on his NRA report card rating. Should we really disqualify someone based on their policy stance on one issue? Really? Most recently, South Carolina congressional candidate Katie Arrington claimed her opponent Joe Cunningham lied because he is not a licensed ocean engineer. Really? Similarly, rumors about Arrington lying about being a cancer survivor surfaced. Again, really? As we head into Election Day, is this the stuff we want to be talking about? Offshore drilling, flooding, climate change, traffic, economic prosperity, gun control, education, health care ... hello?
Our local school board elections are not immune to this discourse either. A recent candidate shared a list of Charleston County School District staff making over $50,000 annually and that list perpetuates the idea that everyone who is not a teacher who works in the school system and has a "fancy title" next to their name is lazy and overpaid. It also perpetuates the false dichotomy that if school districts could just eliminate investments in management and leadership, they can pay their teachers more. In Charleston, the fact of the matter is that if 30 of those $100,000 positions were eliminated, CCSD's 3,200 teachers would see an annual increase of about $656 after taxes. That comes out to $27.33 per pay period per teacher after taxes. With the loss of 30 management jobs, who will be responsible for managing personnel issues districtwide, capital projects, operations, budgeting, HR functions, project planning, strategic planning, as well as state and federal compliance in an organization with a half a billion dollar annual budget?
Is that really what teachers and the general public are clamoring for? If we are talking specifically about funding and teacher compensation, shouldn't we be asking how South Carolina funds public education and how that state funding is allocated, rather than blaming a handful of district administrators and leaders? If we value public education as a community, shouldn't we value the contributions everyone makes regardless of their role as administrator, principal, teacher, cafeteria worker or bus driver? Can Boeing operate without leadership and management? Can a hospital operate without leadership and management? What about the military? Would you go into battle without a sergeant or lieutenant? Front line staff, teachers, and those that get their hands dirty are the backbone of any organization. At the same time, it is shortsighted to conclude leadership and management are expendable.
Why do we treat our public school system differently and why do we assume an organization with a half a billion dollar annual budget that is tasked with preparing our young sons and daughters for the global economy shouldn't have highly qualified, well paid leaders, managers, and teachers?
In full disclosure, I am one of the people on the above mentioned list and I can tell you this, there are many people on (and not on) the list who work hard and wake up every day trying to improve outcomes for all our students. What Charleston and our country need right now are leaders who not only speak truth to power, but offer solutions. Anyone can complain and rally against the establishment, but real leaders bring people together. They don't distract. Authentic leaders don't pit one group against the other. It is time we expect more from our elected officials and those considering elected office and hold them accountable for their message and tactics. If they can't articulate a collective vision and provide you real, tangible solutions, perhaps you should rethink who you are supporting.
Jason Sakran is founder and co-owner of Bon Banh Mi Southeast Asian Kitchen as well as Director for Expanded Learning (Kaleidoscope) for Charleston County School District. He lives in North Central with his wife and two children. His opinions do not reflect or represent the Charleston County School District in any capacity.