Beaufort County school board members mull possibilities for new chair

rheaton@beaufortgazette.comNovember 12, 2012 

Fred Washington Jr.

With several new members and the ouster of Fred Washington Jr. in Tuesday's elections, the Beaufort County school board not only is looking for a new superintendent, it also must pick a new chairperson.

Who that might be is unclear. Seven new members were elected, and only four incumbents are still on the 11-member board. New and old board members are barely acquainted, if at all, so it's difficult to predict who might be elected chairperson after the new board is sworn in in January.

The school board chairperson sets the agenda and runs meetings, serves as a spokesperson for the board, assigns board members to committees and fulfills other tasks -- for instance, attending community events as a district representative.

Washington lost his bid for re-election to another incumbent, Michael Rivers, after redistricting required by the 2010 Census left them competing for the same seat. Washington said a chairperson's success hinges on the board members he leads.

"Just be even-handed. There's no magic solution to it," he said. "You can be a success or a failure depending on each of the board members."

NEW MEMBER OR INCUMBENT?

Although several members said they didn't have a preference, a few said the new leader should be someone with board experience.

"An incoming member is not a good idea," Rivers said.

But others felt just as strongly that the board chairperson should be a fresh face.

"It needs to be a new board member," said Mike Sanz, who ran as a write-in candidate and was elected to the District 10 seat. "I think there are a lot of good people, but the board has lost the trust of the community. We need to start fresh."

Another incoming member who won a write-in campaign disagreed. Evva Anderson said someone already on the board would be a better pick. However, the only board member whose seat was not up for election, Bill Evans, agreed with Sanz that a newcomer deserves a shot.

Longtime board member Laura Bush -- a former board chairwoman -- and newcomers Mary Cordray, Jim Beckert and JoAnn Orischak said they haven't made up their minds.

Attempts to reach Earl Campbell, also a former chairman, and newly elected Geri Kinton were unsuccessful. Newcomer Paul Roth declined comment.

Bush, who is the current secretary, said at least one of the officers -- chairperson, vice chairperson or secretary -- should have some experience and institutional knowledge. Evans agreed.

"With all the new board members and the new superintendent coming on the scene ... we ought to have someone on there who has, for lack of a a better word, corporate knowledge of the board and the actions it's taken," he said. "Someone sitting there that says, 'This is what happened, and here's why.'"

ANY ADVICE?

If there's no consensus on whether the next chairperson should be a newcomer, there is agreement the new leader should not try to push his or her agenda.

"I want somebody who's open and receptive," Cordray said.

Other important qualities cited by members included organization, willingness to serve as a spokesperson and the ability to run a meeting and keep members on task without stepping on toes.

Evans added that the leader should be a member with a flexible schedule because he or she will often be called upon to represent the school district at events.

Bush said she would prefer the officer positions be held by a diverse group -- men and women, of different ethnic backgrounds and from the northern and southern portions of the county.

Washington said the new chairperson must command the respect of other members and keep the meetings orderly and civil.

"If you don't have order and civility, then you're not going to be able to take care of business," he said.

The new board meets for the first time Friday for an orientation at the district office.New members will be briefed by representatives of the S.C. School Boards Association and School Improvement Council. They also will meet with district department heads and learn more about district operations and programs.

The board might have the opportunity to meet informally in the coming months, too, before being sworn in at the first meeting in January. Typically, the board elects officers at that meeting. The meeting isn't scheduled yet.

"Getting to know people and seeing how the group interacts will probably affect (the decision)," Cordray said. "I really want to wait and see how the group gels."

Related content

  1. Sanz, Anderson win remaining Beaufort County school board seats; Nov. 8, 2012
  2. Washington defeated; newcomers to join school board; Nov. 6, 2012

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