Charleston school board candidates offer reasons for current boards dysfunction
Charleston’s budget, charter schools and growth were among the issues debated Wednesday night during a forum hosted by the Charleston League of Women Voters.
More than 50 residents turned out to hear 12 of the 14 county school board candidates answer their questions for nearly two hours.
Incumbent and board Chairman Chris Fraser is unopposed for a two-year seat, and he did not attend the forum. Mattese Lecque, 65, who is retired from the military and from the federal Bureau of Justice, was out of town.
Candidates were asked a dozen questions, one of which was, What do you see as the biggest challenge preventing the school board from being a more effective body? Here’s what they said.
Downtown candidates (one seat)
Jo Cannon, 65, is a retired district librarian and owner of Beads on Cannon. The board’s biggest issue has been establishing goodwill to get along, and members should follow the vote of the majority rather than their own priorities.
On a different question about the board’s major accomplishments, she said, “Allowing (the superintendent) to continue. ... That’s about all I can say.”
Todd Garrett, 36, is an industrial real estate broker, and the Charleston County Legislative Delegation’s nominee to serve in the open seat opened by the resignation of former board member Toya Hampton Green. He said the district has some wonderful teachers, but it’s not his job to select them.
“I want to focus on setting strategy and policy and letting the administrating run (the district),” he said.
Tony Lewis, 50, a self-employed painter and a member of the downtown constituent school board, said he sees problems with communication and respect, both of which go a long way.
“You have a better system if everyone communicates with each other,” he said.
Bruce Smith, 58, is a semi-retired investment banker. He said the board’s role is to support the community and students at-large, and it needs to re-establish that the superintendent works for the board.
“The board should come up with ideas, and she should figure out how to implement them,” he said.
Louis Weinstein, 66, a physician, gave the crowd a laugh by saying the board’s biggest problem was best expressed by Aretha Franklin: R-E-S-P-E-C-T. A lack of respect, he said.
And on a different question about the board’s major accomplishments, he cited increased enrollment and its push to improve literacy and writing.
West Ashley (two seats)
John Barter, 65, is a retired executive vice president of Allied Signal, a $15 billion global company. He said the board needs to have members who are focused on the big picture of strategy and policy.
“A board shapes its own agenda and provides it to management,” he said.
Henry Copeland, 58, is a real estate appraiser, and he said the board has had difficulty understanding its role and responsibility to communicate with the public and the administration.
“The board is somewhat out of focus, and it has given the superintendent a position where she is rudderless.”
Michael Miller, 42, owns a barbershop and serves on two School Improvement Councils. He said there’s a disconnect between the board and what goes on in classrooms. “You can’t govern properly if you have a hands-off approach,” he said.
Jim Ramich, 67, is a retired executive vice president of Corning, where he oversaw billion-dollar businesses. Some members don’t know the board’s role, and it’s not to micromanage, he said. It’s to set policy and goals and hold the administration accountable, he said.
Incumbent Brian Thomas, 37, is an industrial supply salesman, and he said the board needs to return to what it’s supposed to do: support teachers and taxpayers, not the administration.
N. Charleston (two seats)
Incumbent Chris Collins, 48, is pastor of Healing Ministries Baptist Church Center in North Charleston. He said not all board members receive the same information at the same time, so access to information is an issue, he said.
Tom Ducker, 65, served 26 years in the Air Force before retiring as a colonel. He said the board is ineffective because it lacks vision, and it’s given up its responsibility to be the governing body of the district.