The Beaufort County Board of Education sorely needs more members who will ask questions and push back against the administration, which makes John Dowling the clear choice for Tuesday’s special election in District 6.
Dowling and Susan Gordon are vying to finish the four-term of former chairperson Patricia Felton-Montgomery, who resigned in June after only six months in office, citing new and unexpected medical reasons.
Since last December, Dowling has been an activist, attending and speaking out at more than 20 board meetings. He has sought common-sense financial and ethical accountability from Superintendent Jeff Moss and the school board.
The 11-member board has a six-vote majority behind Moss and four members who are willing to ask questions even though they are often criticized and rebuked for doing so. One board member says he was physically threatened by a fellow member, and another was subjected to an absurd letter of reprimand. Board chairman Earl Campbell recently said critics of the school district as it is being run today will “go to hell.” That’s how despicably low the Beaufort County School District has sunk.
Nothing would be better for this county than a clean slate. We need a new superintendent because Moss chucked his credibility soon after walking in the door. We need a board with some semblance of maturity, and that conducts public business in public. We need a school district that is responsive to the public, not defensive and secretive.
The status quo will hurt children more as time goes by because the public is unlikely to approve money for construction, even as enrollment in southern Beaufort County grows, because it does not trust the superintendent or the board. Voters soundly defeated a gargantuan request last year from this crippled board and superintendent.
That is why this rare opportunity to insert another voice against the status quo cannot be squandered.
Susan Gordon is smart and has extensive classroom and administrative experience. She seems focused on educational programs. However, she repeats familiar lines (a lot of good things are happening in the schools, the dropout rate is down, board members should not squabble), indicating she would be a status quo board member when pushback is needed.
But we would warn that Dowling will do no one any good if he cannot work with other board members. Dowling was escorted out of a board meeting by a school district staff member after then-board chairperson Mary Cordray felt threatened by his conversation with her during a break.
Dowling told us that he understands one would use a different approach and face different demands when working as a board member rather than outside activist. He should know how to make this adjustment due to his past multi-term experience as a school board member of a small district in Massachusetts, and as a staff member of the statewide school boards association there.
Dowling, a 70-year-old retiree from Sun City Hilton Head, has been endorsed by former school board members Al Stern, Joan Deery, Jim Bequette and Rick Caporale, all of whom showed backbone and initiative on the board.
“The overarching issue is that of public trust,” Dowling wrote in our questionnaire to the candidates, “so restoring that trust tops my list. The district is merely running in place until that is achieved.”
That is true, and that is why voters of Sun City and Okatie should vote for Dowling.