Amid a countywide conversation about crowded classrooms, a new and organized coalition has emerged to help steer the discussion toward achieving success at getting Beaufort County residents to say yes to an expected second referendum from the school board.
A group like this did not exist last year when citizens turned down the Beaufort County Board of Education’s roughly $313 million request for money to build two schools, buy land for a third, add on to six schools and update existing facilities.
In fact, two opposing groups — Citizens Advocating Responsible Education, commonly known as CARE, and the Greater Bluffton Republican Club — ran “smear campaigns” against the referendum, according to some parents at a Bluffton town hall meeting Monday night.
Enter “STAND for Children Beaufort County,” a group formed a few weeks ago that has gained the backing of many parents and teachers who spend time inside schools each day. Several STAND members attended Monday’s town hall meeting.
“What we see are as eyewitnesses every day,” said Bluffton mother Amanda Walrad, who started STAND. “We understand (CARE has) had the loudest voice in the room for a while, the past two years. We want to say ‘Hey, there’s another voice here.’ ”
CARE formed in the wake of superintendent Jeff Moss’ 2015 ethics violations and has loomed over the district ever since. The group is seen by some in the community as out of touch with the district because many of its supporters hail from Sun City Hilton Head or are retirees in other areas of the county.
CARE co-founder Rich Bisi disagreed with this assessment of the group’s membership, pointing to teachers who talk to the group behind the scenes and parents who support CARE’s efforts.
“And we were parents once, too,” he said.
He added that he is encouraged by the new wave of participation at school board meetings.
“We welcome (STAND) to the scene,” Bisi said. “It’s great to see parents engaged like this. We have much more in common than our differences.”
STAND also disputes the idea that their group formed to counter CARE.
“I wouldn’t say we’re anti-CARE.” Walrad said. “We don’t take a position to be anti-anyone. I would say we do not appreciate things being circulated that are false, highly circulated and not fully researched facts.”
Bisi denies that CARE misinforms the community and said some STAND members have accused CARE of blocking people, including some board members, from its Facebook page — “an absolute falsehood,” he said.
Walrad said STAND has blocked one person from the group’s Facebook page for continually referring to the group as “Mossketeers,” a phrase she rejects.
“I don’t think anyone’s proud of Dr. Moss’ history,” Walrad said. “However, we don’t fully blame him. ...We have seen under his leadership some goals achieved. We may not like him as a person, we may not like his history, but we right now are focused on children. We have no alignment with Moss whatsoever. ... We do not align ourselves with any particular board member.”
It means ‘take a stand.’ Stand up for your kid.
Amanda Walrad, Bluffton mother and STAND co-founder
Walrad said all three STAND leaders live in Bluffton: Walrad has three children, two zoned to attend River Ridge Academy and the other at May River High School. Jodie Srutek uses the district’s School Choice program and her children attend River Ridge and Bluffton Elementary. Lindsay Weller is a mother of three, one at River Ridge, one at May River and a third with special needs who attends Bluffton Elementary.
But Walrad said STAND has supporters countywide from Whale Branch to Port Royal to Hilton Head Island.
And STAND is here to stay long after voters cast their ballot on a referendum, Walrad said.
“Right now we’re targeting local (issues) and eventually would like to take on the state,” she said, referencing Act 388 as a likely target.
The controversial school funding law, passed by the state in 2006, excludes primary homeowners from being taxed for school operations, creating a system reliant on rental properties, second-homes and commercial properties.
The local group is based on a national organization, STAND for Children, one Walrad said she is hoping to partner with. She also said she is trying to file the group as a 501(c)(3).
As for an acronym, STAND does not have one.
“It means ‘take a stand,’ ” Walrad said. “Stand up for your kid.”
STAND for Children Beaufort County priorities
- Supports 2017 referendum
- Achieve an 85 percent capacity in each school
- Have all students reading on grade level by third grade
- Close the achievement gap
- Disciplinary issues belong in executive session
- Support school board candidates that have served in education in some way
- Undecided on offering support for 2017 referendum
- Fiscal transparency
- Improve test scores
- Views “healthy debate” as good for democracy
- Recruit, elect and retain school board members willing to ask district administration “probing questions” instead of “rubber-stamping decisions”