In a partisan split, nearly every Republican member of the Charleston County legislative delegation voted to select commercial real estate broker Chris Fraser to fill a vacant seat on the Charleston County School Board Monday. Nearly every Democrat voted against him.
The delegation, which consists of the 21 state representatives and senators representing Charleston County, met Monday night at North Charleston City Hall to decide who would fill a West Ashley vacancy on the school board left by former member Michael Miller. Miller stepped down at the end of 2018 to serve as Charleston County register of deeds, leaving his seat vacant until it ends in 2020.
Pending an appointment by Republican Gov. Henry McMaster, Fraser will re-join the school board after an absence of five years. Fraser previously served on the countywide board from 2008 to 2014, including a period of particularly intense infighting on the board during his stint as chairman.
Fraser said Monday that he will only serve until the end of 2020 and will not run for the seat again. Asked about the partisan split in selecting the technically non-partisan position, Fraser described himself as "fiscally conservative, socially liberal." He said he believed the district was on a sound financial path after an unexpected $18 million budget shortfall in 2015 that auditors traced back to years of faulty budgeting practices and faulty internal spending controls.
Fraser touted an endorsement from the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce Monday night. If appointed to the board, he will join board members Cindy Bohn Coats, Kate Darby, Joyce Green and the Rev. Eric Mack, who all received endorsements from the chamber in the 2018 election.
Coats, Darby, Green and Mack also received endorsements — and hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of advertising — from an advocacy group called the Charleston Coalition for Kids, which has published no specific policy priorities but has ties to charter schools and the private Meeting Street Schools. Fraser appeared on a list of 75 founding members of the Coalition.
Fraser said Monday that he had some input in selecting the four candidates the Coalition endorsed for the nine-member board. When asked about the Coalition's policy positions, Fraser said he would act independently.
"I'm not being driven by the Coalition for anything. I get no input from them. I've got no guidance from anybody on what I'm supposed to do and not do, and I speak for myself," Fraser said.
Some candidates and observers groused on the way in to City Council chambers Monday night that the legislators' minds were already made up. Current school board member Kevin Hollinshead was taking bets on the partisan split vote before the meeting began.
"The fight has already been fixed," said Charles Glover, one of the eight applicants for the West Ashley vacancy on the nine-member county board.
Seven candidates — Fraser, Glover, Cynthia V. Anderson, Francis Marion Beylotte III, Herbert Fielding Sr., Eric A. Jackson and Paul H. Padron — spoke for three minutes each. (An eighth candidate, attorney Allison Stover Leard, initially submitted her name for consideration but withdrew it before Monday's meeting.)
Nearly every Democrat voted for Jackson, a member of the Burke High School Improvement Council and founder of the nonprofit group R3 Inc. Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston, was absent from the meeting and abstained from casting a proxy vote citing a potential conflict of interest.
Every Republican voted for Fraser except Rep. Nancy Mace, R-Daniel Island, who abstained; and Rep. Peter McCoy, R-Charleston, who initially broke with the party to vote for Padron, who received the second-most votes for a West Ashley seat in the November election. On a second vote, McCoy backed Jackson.
The Quality Education Project, a local advocacy group that has opposed the expansion of charter schools and Meeting Street Schools, issued a press release Sunday calling on the delegation to select "a strong advocate for and has a demonstrated record of support for traditional (non-charter) schools and communities of color who are disproportionately impacted by a minimally adequate education." QEP specifically opposed Fraser in its press release, citing his ties to the Coalition.