Rivals speak out on schools

Republican state superintendent of education runoff candidates Elizabeth Moffly (right) and Mick Zais answer audience questions Monday at a party meeting at North Charleston City Council chambers.

The Republicans running for state superintendent of education both agree students should be offered more than one type of diploma to get out of high school. They also think more decision-making should be pushed down into the hands of local communities and parents.

Beyond that, GOP voters next week will choose between two candidates with widely differing ideas on how best to deliver public education.

Elizabeth Moffly and Mick Zais answered questions for a half-hour from members of the Charleston County Republican Party on Monday in a mostly peaceful forum billed as a lead-up to next week's GOP education superintendent nominating runoff.

Zais, the outgoing president of Newberry College, finished first in the six-way race last Tuesday, with about 26 percent of the vote. Moffly, of Awendaw, the president of a construction and real estate company, came in second with about 19 percent.

On paper, the two have diversely different resumes. Zais graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and has a doctorate from the University of Washington. He is a retired Army brigadier general and is leaving Newberry after a 10-year stint.

Zais said many of South Carolina's education woes stem from poor discipline, a too-rigid system of funding and too much going toward administration and facilities. Students are like soldiers, he said. They will be "as good as you make them and as bad as you let them be."

Taxpayers deserve better for the average $13,880 spent per student, he said at the forum held inside North Charleston City Hall.

Moffly, who is making her second bid for education superintendent, said South Carolina needs to rethink how it delivers education to the child. "It's not that we have bad education," she said, " we have bad policies." She was critical that, too often, the state was teaching students "to the test."

Among her proposed reforms are reducing the number of credits needed for graduation from 24 to 19 and altering the current grading scale from a seven-point system --such as 93 to 100 being an A grade -- to a 10-point system seen in other states.

The only contentious words between the two came after Moffly said she supported two types of high school degrees, one for a college-prep track and one for a vocational diploma. Zais said he supported three types: a workplace diploma, a technical field diploma and a pre-college track.

Moffly said Zais' position amounted to him adopting one of her ideas. "I feel very honored that Mick's adopted this during our campaign," Moffly told the crowd of about 70.

Zais did not contest the point in front of the audience, but after the forum said the idea of offering multiple diplomas is "common sense."

Meanwhile, the only Republican ever to be elected state superintendent gave her endorsement to Zais earlier in the day Monday. Barbara Nielsen, who served in the 1990s, said Zais has a proven track record of success at Newberry. Plus he possesses the "strong leadership ability to lead the turnaround that is desperately needed at the South Carolina Department of Education," she said.

The winner of the runoff June 22 will face Frank Holleman, a Democrat, and former U.S. deputy secretary of education, this November.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-555 or skropf@postandcourier.com.

RUNOFF LINEUPS

Below are the 10 Republican races and one Democratic contest that will be decided next Tuesday in the parties' runoff elections.

The runoffs were required when the leading vote-getters failed to reach the 50 percent-plus-one threshold June 8 in the primaries. The runoff winners move on to the general election Nov. 2.

If you voted in a primary June 8, you can vote only in that party's runoff. If you didn't vote in a primary, you can vote in either party's runoff.

DEMOCRATS

Charleston County Council District 8

--Karen Hollinshead Brown

--Anna B. Johnson

REPUBLICANS

Governor

--Gresham Barrett

--Nikki Haley

Lieutenant Governor

--Ken Ard

--Bill Connor

Education Superintendent

--Elizabeth Moffly

--Mick Zais

Attorney General

--Leighton Lord

--Alan Wilson

State House District 117

--Bill Crosby

--Jimmy Hinson

1st Congressional District

--Tim Scott

--Paul Thurmond

6th Congressional District

--Nancy Harrelson

--Jim Pratt

Berkeley County Supervisor

--Henry Brown

--Dan Davis

Berkeley County Coroner

--Bill Salisbury

--Sharon Shuler

Dorchester County Council District 2

--David Chinnis

--James Stein