The roster for the Accountability "A" Team, the five-person slate running for the nine-member Charleston County School Board, dropped from five to four last week when Sandi Engelman left the group. Whether or not Engelman, an incumbent in the West Ashley seat who's still running on her own, left willingly or was kicked off is open for debate.
Engelman says she was told to leave (incumbents Lurline Fishburne and Ray Toler, as well as Robin Beard and Arthur Ravenel Jr., remain) when she said she would not support Ravenel's bid for board chair if the group was elected.
Her vote would lie instead with her husband, vice-chair David Engelman, and she says that despite agreeing with the rest of the group's philosophy, that was a dealbreaker.
Ravenel contends Engelman left on her own accord via an e-mail resignation, and that he is not worried in the least about her departure's effect on the team's success in the fall, calling it "no big deal."
Mark Hartley, campaign coordinator for the A-Team, says the A-Team is considering endorsing another candidate or asking someone else running for the West Ashley seat to join, although no calls have been made so far. Yet who, if anyone, will fill Engelman's spot is perhaps less important than the fact that a vacancy exists at all. Besides the chair issue, Sandi Engelman says the A-Team should be more forthright about its intentions — specifically its plans to oust superintendent Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson if elected.
"If you go run for public office, you put it all on the table," Engelman says. "What if the team had been elected, and we come in and say, 'OK, the superintendent is out'?"
Ravenel reiterates that firing Goodloe-Johnson is not on his plan of action.
"That has never been discussed by the five of us."
According to Hartley, the only member to express that sentiment was Engelman herself, whose distaste for the superintendent's performance is common knowledge.
A desire to fire Goodloe-Johnson doesn't appear in the group's statement of intent, which Ravenel assures has not changed, nor does it show up anywhere in the pamphlets mailed to 16,000 households outlining the A-Team's plan for Accountability.
But the fact that they didn't address such issues earlier raises all kinds of questions, says Jon Butzon, director for the public education advocacy organization Charleston Education Network. "Hey, didn't you all sit down and make sure that you were right-minded before you put in the letter? If this is the example of their ability to organize and manage and pull together a plan, I think we're a whole lot better off without that."
That lack of foresight could point to larger spots of ambiguity in the team's campaign. Butzon says where board members fall with support for the superintendent represents a major voting issue, and to dance around the question — Ravenel has said repeatedly that he can't judge the superintendent's performance until he's on the board — robs voters of a clear indicator of how he would act if elected.
"If you don't take that stand enough to stand up and own it, what kind of example does that set for our community and kids?" Butzon argues. School board member Gregg Meyers, like Butzon, says that he gets the clear indication that Ravenel and his posse would put an end to Goodloe-Johnson's tenure if elected.
"That is the single most important decision a school board makes," Meyers says. "If you aren't talking about that, then you haven't done your homework."
For A-Team members already on the board (Toler and Fishburne) their actions don't match any "undecided" rhetoric. For instance, on Aug. 3 the board (minus Susan Simons and Gregg Meyers, who support Goodloe-Johnson's Plan for Excellence) voted against all three of the candidates the superintendent proposed to fill the principal position at Jane Edwards Elementary School. Fishburne and Toler joined the Engelmans in telling the board they preferred to hire locals and left the school without a principal for the time being, forcing a special meeting last Monday.
The A-Team has also failed to outline its criteria for evaluating what Ravenel has called a "dysfunctional" school district, according to Meyers, who worked to create ways to concretely evaluate the superintendent and her progress. He says that of the more than 80 data items used, the school district is moving in the right direction on 80 percent of them.
Even given the A-Team's dismal report card for the district, it won't answer the question, "By what means will you judge her?" Meyers says.
Their lack of viable alternatives, Meyers says, demonstrates the group's tendency to oversimplify complex problems.
Strangely enough, Ravenel wouldn't argue: "It's very simple insofar as we're concerned. Now, we are four."
Whatever you say, cuz.