Southern Beaufort County school board candidates lay out priorities

rheaton@islandpacket.comOctober 27, 2012 

A change on the Beaufort County Board of Education is not just a possibility this election year; it's an inevitability.

At most, five current members of the board will remain after the Nov. 6 election. But as few as three of the 11 current members could remain.

The turnover is due in part to redistricting. New boundaries based on the 2010 Census left four of the 11 districts with no incumbents. Ten of the 11 seats are up for election, and in one race in northern Beaufort County, two incumbents are pitted against each other, with a challenger also vying for the seat.

In southern Beaufort County, incumbent Laura Bush is running unopposed, and no one is on the ballot in District 7 or 10, which probably will be filled by write-in candidates.

Here's a rundown of candidates on the ballot in contested elections for southern Beaufort County seats, as well as highlights of their platforms.

DISTRICT 5

A former Riverview Charter School board member is facing off against the incumbent in District 5. Most of the district is in northern Beaufort County but it straddles the Broad River.

Geri Kinton, a founding board member of Riverview Charter School and office manager of Beaufort Memorial Hospital, said she most wants to see academic improvement among students.

That includes increased graduation rates, kindergarten readiness and other measures of student achievement. She's also wants better transparency and accountability from the school board and district administration, and would like to see the district find ways to achieve results while spending less money.

Ron Speaks was first elected to the board in 1996. Speaks, who teaches math at the Technical College of the Lowcountry, said he wants the district to advance in technology, literacy and math literacy because each is critical to the 21st century. Speaks said he wants students to use more technological tools in addition to iPads.

DISTRICT 6

Paul Roth and Bert Walker, both newcomers, are running for the District 6 seat.

Roth, who has a background in investing, advertising and entertainment, said he believes former superintendent Valerie Truesdale was handcuffed and micromanaged by the board. Roth thinks the board's highest responsibility is hiring a new superintendent, and that it must also achieve a "new level of fiduciary responsibility." He also wants the district to expand its use of technology as a learning tool.

Walker, who served in the U.S. Air Force and has worked in the IT field, also believes selecting a new superintendent is the top priority. He's a school-choice advocate who wants to see full implementation of iPads in the classroom. He has called for a review of the district's budget to ensure nothing is done just because that's the way it has always been done.

DISTRICT 8

Three candidates are vying for the District 8 seat: Al Bischoff, Mary Cordray and Elizabeth Riordan.

Bischoff, a professional consultant who has participated in Rotary Club school-volunteer programs, said he would focus on improving graduation rates and reforming South Carolina's school-funding formulas. He also supports teacher growth and development, and has advocated a system that better matches students with teachers based on their skills, personalities and abilities.

Cordray, the budget director at the University of South Carolina, said her top issue is ensuring the school district is fiscally responsible. She wants the district's focus to be on channeling money and manpower to the classroom. She also would select a superintendent focused on boosting student achievement and believes the board and superintendent should remove obstacles to student success. She is a school-choice advocate.

Riordan, a retired teacher and school guidance counselor, said she wants to ensure that the district's instructional programs prepare students for employment. She wants secondary education to include training for employment or technical college. She's also focused on finding money to fund education despite the tough economy. She supports a compensation model that would give bonuses to all school staff if their schools met student achievement goals.

DISTRICT 11

Reid Eikner and JoAnn Orischak seek the District 11 seat.

Eikner served on the board from 2006 to 2008. He is retired after a career in corporate finance and executive management. Eikner said the board's top concern is hiring a superintendent who will complete the district's "turnaround in academic performance" begun by Truesdale. He'd also like the district to analyze and plan for the 2013 property reassessment, likely to affect school district revenues. Eikner also said the board should resist micromanaging the school district.

Orischak has been a software applications instructor, a teacher and has chaired parent committees focused on education of the gifted and talented. Orischak said she wants to hire the right superintendent, define goals and hold him or her accountable. She said that Truesdale's "above average" compensation should have yielded better results on state report card ratings, where the district has not risen above an "average" rating. Orischak also supports improved communication between board members and constituents. She wants student achievement to rise and the district to earn a "good" or "excellent" rating on school report cards.

Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.

Related content: Upcoming elections spell change for Beaufort County school board; June 23, 2012

Incumbents, retired educator to face off in Beaufort County school board race; July 16, 2012

More southern Beaufort County representatives to hold seats on countywide boards; Oct. 18, 2012

Bluffton school board candidates discuss next superintendent, budget priorities; Oct. 23, 2012

Hilton Head school board candidates talk new superintendent, budget issues; Oct. 17, 2012

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