School board faces immediate challenges

info@islandpacket.comNovember 8, 2012 

The Beaufort County Board of Education needs new leadership, and it must emerge quickly at a crucial time for the board.

Following Tuesday's election -- and last year's redistricting based on the 2010 census -- the board will be awash in new faces as it searches for a new superintendent.

Only four of the current 11 members will remain when the new board takes office in January.

Gone will be the board chairman since 2006, Fred Washington Jr. of Beaufort, who placed a distant second in a three-person race Tuesday. Also gone will be vice chairman George Wilson of Okatie, who did not seek re-election. The only remaining board officer is Laura Bush of Bluffton, the board secretary, who was re-elected without opposition.

Bush will be joined by three returning members: Earl Campbell of Lobeco, who ran unopposed; Bill Evans of Lady's Island, who holds the only seat that was not on Tuesday's ballot; and Michael Rivers Sr. of St. Helena Island, who won in the newly drawn district that included Washington. Incumbent Ron Speaks of Beaufort, a board member since 1996, was beaten handily by political newcomer Geri Kinton.

It almost seems fitting amid such turmoil that two of the 10 seats up for election had no candidates on the ballot and will be filled by write-in candidates.

This is no way to run a school district.

It is a shame that redistricting -- a complicated process carried out by the Beaufort County Council with input from the state and approval by the federal government -- resulted in such uncertainty for a bedrock institution of the community. It is also unfortunate that the school board gave anemic input in that public process.

Washington's loss points to perhaps a very problematic aspect of the redrawn districts. The new District 3 for both the school board and County Council places the heart of Beaufort in a district dominated by St. Helena Island. In Tuesday's election, Washington and challenger Bernie Schein, also of Beaufort, did not together get as many votes as Rivers, the St. Helena representative. St. Helena deserves a seat on the board, and Rivers enjoys strong loyalty from St. Helena, which had a stronger voter turnout than downtown Beaufort. But the heart of Beaufort also deserves a seat on the board, and the new district makes that unlikely. Both Washington and Schein are from families with deep roots in Beaufort as business and community leaders. While redistricting has met legal criteria, it has failed to consistently adhere to historical community sensitivities and common sense, and that is costing the school board.

We're encouraged that the new board members are dedicated, intelligent individuals who ran for a thankless job because they want to improve schools and life in Beaufort County. They bring different talents and different perspectives. Their wisdom will be needed immediately, starting with picking a new board chairman.

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