Ten of 11 Beaufort County school board seats are up for election Nov. 6. Six of the seats are contested on the ballot and write-in candidates are campaigning for the two other seats. Change is coming to the school board, and that should be positive for the district and its students.
Here are our choices for the contested races in southern Beaufort County.
Bert Walker promises a teacher-focused, technology- and accountability-driven approach to education in Beaufort County.
Walker, the spouse of a long-time teacher, speaks with authority on what frustrates teachers and what hinders performance in the classroom. Small things, like no paper for the printer or computers not properly hooked up, can have a cumulative negative impact and should not be discounted.
He also has a big-picture look on how to produce better results. He recognizes the increasingly important role of technology in the classroom and how it can help engage students and facilitate learning. His military and private sector careers focused on information technology. And he recognizes the critical role parents play in their children's education.
Walker's priorities for the district also are on target. Selecting the next superintendent; student achievement; and fiscal responsibility top his list.
His criteria for selecting the right superintendent for Beaufort County include: Is this candidate an effective communicator, manager and listener? Is he or she not afraid to take risks or make a commitment? Is the candidate flexible and able to manage the politics of the job? Can he or she collaborate with the board and adjust to changes in state funding and the school community, while not sacrificing the district's vision.
The criteria show he has a good grasp on the roles of the board and the superintendent in achieving a well-run, successful school district.
Walker also wants to review the board's governance policies with an eye toward improving board members' interactions with the public and with each other. Open, honest debate is the goal.
His experience, perspective and priorities make him our choice for the District 6 seat.
Mary Cordray will bring a measured, consensus-building approach to school board decisions. Cordray is not quick to criticize if she thinks she needs more information, but also is willing to hold people accountable for their decisions.
Cordray, who has worked in higher education in South Carolina since 1977 and currently is budget director at the University of South Carolina Beaufort, says she is committed to doing her best to allow all of Beaufort County's children to do their best.
Her experience at USCB should help with her goal of fiscal responsibility and accountability. She promises to work to ensure that the district is focused on achieving the goals and priorities established with the budget through diligent oversight of the financial planning and review process. Resources, both financial and human, should be channeled toward instruction and student achievement. She thinks the school district has enough money to achieve its goals and doesn't see a need to increase taxes, and she likes the oversight that comes from Beaufort County Council setting the school district's tax rate. Decisions that affects people's pocketbooks, she said, should require more than one step.
Cordray brings a common-sense outlook to issues facing Beaufort County. On St. Helena Elementary School's failing report card, she rightly asks: "Why did we have to wait for an "F" report card to act?" No one should have been surprised by the grade.
She also correctly notes how hard it is to find out after the fact why the school board voted on a particular issue the way it did. Minutes don't offer enough insight and aren't current on the district's website.
The school district, Cordray says, should be as open as the law allows. The next superintendent should be committed to transparency. That's an approach we'd welcome on the school board.
Reid Eikner would bring both experience and a fresh set of eyes to the school board.
Eikner served on the board from 2006 to 2008 when he filled the unexpired term of Stu Rodman, who left the board to serve on County Council. Eikner says he felt compelled to run again given that at least six, and possibly, eight of the school board's 11 members would be new to the job. His previous tenure on the board would put him ahead of other newly elected members and provide a needed measure of continuity.
He has a strong background in education and finance. He holds a degree in civil engineering, as well as a master's degree in business and a law degree. He has taught a business course to senior engineering students at the University of Virginia.
Eikner's priorities are right on the money: Hiring a new superintendent who has demonstrated the ability to improve academic performance among a diverse student population, as well as leadership skills and financial acumen; preparing well for the 2013 property reassessment that will have a negative impact on county and school district revenue; and ensuring the board doesn't micro-manage district operations, but focuses on the one employee it is responsible for, the superintendent.
He joins Walker in pushing for the board to get out of Beaufort and meet in other parts of the county to increase and improve public participation. There's a difference, he says, between speaking directly to the board versus making a statement into a microphone at a remote location.
Eikner is very knowledgeable on how state and local funding of education works, the pitfalls of the current funding methods at the different levels and the issues that need to be addressed to ensure equitable funding.