When four new members of the Charleston County School Board take office, they'll join four others who were sworn in just two years ago. This year's candidates recognize the potential.
"For people who have been concerned about the direction of the school board, this is their chance to make a difference," says Mt. Pleasant candidate Everett Wilcox.
Big questions facing the board in the coming months include implementing a list of potential school construction projects that are also on the ballot, as well as a debate over how teachers will be evaluated and what role charter schools should have in the public school system.
Voting for the Charleston County School Board is complicated. In most any other race, a certain voting district votes for their individual representative. Even though school board members represent a particular district, every voter in Charleston County gets to vote in every race. That means that voters in West Ashley will pick their representative, as well as the representative for East Cooper. And vice-versa. Here's a rundown of the races:
East Cooper (Pick 2): Craig Ascue, Elizabeth Moffly, Everett Wilcox
North Area (Pick 1): Cindy Bohn Coats
West Ashley (Pick 1):Michael Miller, Mary Ann Taylor
Experience: The East Cooper business owner has served for 12 years on the local constituent school board, which focuses largely on student appeals and bus routes. "I've always been passionate about education and community service," Ascue says. "My agenda is to make sure Charleston County schools continue to do positive things."
Parents: Ascue says he'll be an advocate for parents on the board, calling for early childhood programs focused on reading and bridging the achievement gap between white and black students. He says parents also want transparency and accountability from the board. "They want to feel like they're part of the decision-making process," he says.
Charters: The rise of charter school programs is due to parents wanting different educational opportunities for their children, Ascue says. "Charters can be a good thing. The old system has come up empty," he says. Ascue hopes to bring the kinds programs and smaller class sizes that are driving parents to charter programs to local neighborhood schools.
Sales tax: Ascue says he'll support the penny sales tax, but the board will have to closely monitor the program. "We can get 10 times more for our money if we make sure those investments work," he says.
Another Run: For GOP voters, Moffly's name will look very familiar. The candidate made it to a runoff in the Republican primary for state education superintendent back in June.
Audit, Control: The candidate would support the current push for an audit to determine effective programs. Moffly would also divert control on many issues to the local constituent districts. "A large board isn't necessarily accessible or accountable," she says. "Every community is different with different needs and concerns."
charters: Moffly supports public charter schools, noting the programs "give parents a choice and a voice."
standards: Moffly would review and update the districts stringent standards. She considers current expectations too high for some students. "We're expecting mastery at too early of an age," she says. "We've made kindergarten first grade." She'd also reform behavior standards, noting the district's zero tolerance policy. "We're criminalizing kids for juvenile behavior," she says.
sales tax:. It's a difficult question, but Moffly says she can't support the proposed tax. "I'm all for the safety, health, and welfare of our children," she says, but "I think the way they went about it wasn't right." Moffly says she would have supported a referendum on the five schools considered structurally unsound, but doesn't support the larger "wish list" of projects.
Corporate know-how: Wilcox is coming to this race as a former executive, lawyer, fundraiser, and professor. "I've always been committed to public education," the recent retiree says. "I wanted to make a contribution." His experience could help with the budget, as an executive who's managed a tight budget for a big institution with thousands of employees. "I don't think anyone else has that kind of background," he says.
Charters: Offering innovation and experimental programs, charter schools are part of the solution, Wilcox says, although he warns that the district should closely monitor programs to avoid diverting funds for a sub-standard education.
Sales tax: "I'm personally going to vote for the penny sales tax," Wilcox says. The alternative of a property tax increase will overburden already disadvantaged businesses that don't receive a property tax credit like homeowners. He also notes that part of the sales tax will be paid for by the county's visitors and tourists.
Volunteer: Miller has spent nearly two decades as a mentor, volunteer, philanthropist, and juvenile arbitrator, directly helping students. He's hoping to bring that experience to the board. "Sometimes, I've felt the school board was a little disconnected from the classroom."
Parents, community: Miller says he'll focus on improving parental involvement in schools. "Parental involvement is essential for a successful school," he says. When parents can't or won't pick up the slack, Miller says he'll reach out to business owners and community leaders to step up and take a role as mentors.
Sales tax: Seeing the facility improvements in the proposed sales tax as necessary, Miller will support the referendum as a better alternative than a threatened property tax increase.
Charters: Miller says charter schools are one way to create choice in public schools.
Mary Ann Taylor
Experience: Before retiring recently, Taylor spent 37 years in public education as a teacher and administrator. She has spent 25 of those years in varied Charleston County schools. "I have expertise, and I have plenty of time," she says. Taylor considers herself someone who is fair-minded and willing to dig into problems. "I'm a good problem solver," she says.
Teachers: Taylor says she will be an advocate for teachers on the board and she'd like to facilitate the kinds of relationships between teachers, parents, and students that are important for development.
Sales tax: "The feeling out on the street is that this is not a time to tax anyone," Taylor says. "If the building is safe, let's bring this back at another time." She notes she wants to let the public decide. "I'm not pushing it, but I'm not being an obstructionist."
Charters: Taylor supports school choice but warns that not every charter school is a quality program. "I don't want anyone to see 'charter' in the name and think everything's going to be right — the same goes with 'magnet,'" she says. The key is an administration that can juggle both academic success and a budget.