The two candidates running for a vacant seat on the Berkeley County school board were well-versed on an array of education issues ranging from school funding to classroom discipline to the No Child Left Behind law in a debate Tuesday night.

Sponsored by the Berkeley County Teachers' Forum, the event at the Daniel Island School revealed only minor differences between Doug Cooper and Karen Smith. Both candidates are active parents with a history of school involvement in the district they hope to represent if elected Feb. 5.

Only voters in Berkeley's District 2, which covers Daniel Island and parts of Hanahan and Goose Creek, are eligible to vote in next week's election.

Cooper, the general manager of a three-state region for McNaughton-McKay Electric Co., stressed the importance of fixing the state's funding formula for schools during many of the questions posed to him.

School board members should serve as leaders in an effort to lobby lawmakers to give more money to growing areas such as Berkeley County, which need new schools but currently have limited options for funding the facilities, he said. But reaching out to lawmakers also needs to be a grassroots approach with local community members who care about schools doing their part, he said.

Cooper said he wants to see a combined effort where leaders in all three Lowcountry school districts appeal to local lawmakers with a "common message" to fix the funding inadequacies plaguing schools throughout the region.

Smith, who has served as president of the Daniel Island School PTA for the last two years, focused on her experience learning the ins and outs of schools as a volunteer. In answering a question about how to boost parental involvement, Smith said she hopes to see schools become "community centers" used for a multitude of local events. If parents are comfortable entering a school for community gatherings, they also will feel welcome attending conferences relating to their child's education, she said.

Smith emphasized that 30 percent of all Daniel Island School students come from outside of the school's attendance zone and use choice transfers to attend. She said she favors school choice and would like to see Berkeley County explore the idea of a magnet high school.

The candidates differed the most when asked to describe their leadership style and their thoughts on the role of school board members.

Cooper said board members should hire the superintendent, monitor and set policies for the district and review and approve the annual budget, but not micromanage tasks best left to school administrators and teachers. Smith said board members need to "think outside the box" and be independent and innovative.

Both candidates have attracted significant support from Berkeley's education community and had plenty of backers in the crowd of roughly 75 people.

Cooper has received endorsements from the conservative Citizens for Reasonable Taxation Group, as well as from Frances Brewer, who represented the district on the school board for 16 years until November 2006. Smith has been endorsed by the Daniel Island Business Association, County Councilman Tim Callanan and Dan Kingsbury, who held the now-vacant seat on the school board for the past year before relocating to Columbia.

Reach Mindy B. Hagen at mhagen@postandcourier.com or 937-5433.