BEAUFORT COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD ELECTIONS: THE CANDIDATES

in Election 2016 by

Source: Citizens Advocating Responsible Education 

Q1: The school board has proposed raising the sales tax by 1 percent to finance new school construction and other projects. The sales tax increase would generate more than $300 million over 10 years. What’s your position on asking the taxpayers to approve this increase?

Q3: In 2015, more than 200 teachers left the Beaufort County School District. Superintendent Jeff Moss has suggested building affordable housing for teachers as one way to recruit and retain qualified teachers. Do you think the school district should be in the housing business and do you think such an approach will help lower the attrition rate for teachers?

Q4: There has been a huge achievement gap between whites and blacks for the last 15 years. What remedies would you advocate to close the gap that have not been tried before?

Q5: If elected to the school board, what would be your top three priorities?

Q6: The hiring of the Superintendent’s wife is largely responsible for the lack of public trust in the Beaufort County School District and the subsequent actions of the school board have made transparency a critical issue. How would you propose to “win back” the public’s trust?

Q8: Every candidate has unique experience. How would your experience benefit the school district by serving on the board?

Q9: Now that Superintendent Moss has admitted guilt to two of the three ethics charges against him, has been reprimanded by the state ethics commission and fined, do you think the issue is now over? If yes, why and if no, what do you think the school board should do now?

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DISTRICT 1
(Northwest sections of Beaufort County)

Earl Campbell (incumbent)

Q1: I am in favor of this sales tax

Q3: No. We should work with Realtors to help to find affordable housing.

Q4: Working with parents and community more closely.

Q5: Priority 1 is student achievement and making sure we have the best teacher in the classroom, and improve students behavior, working with the parents and community, and all the church. Priority 2 is to make sure tax funds in the classroom are used properly. Priority 3 is to improve relationships with the community.

Q6: Showing more respect to the public and the community and be more truthful to all.

Q8: My experience in education, business, and the legal area for the pass 30 years, and working with scsba, nsba , sc legislators

Q9: No. The board has to sit down with the community, and do what is best for all the students and show the community we will change the way we have been doing business, and gain the community trust once again.

Caleb Brown

Q1: I am against this sales tax. Initially, one issue (before it was voted against) was the funding of higher institutions. The Beaufort County School District is having a hard time managing K-12 and isn’t doing it due diligence to bridge the academic achievement gap. Many children are being passed along unable to perform on grade level. Funds should go to programs to help. There are also multiple Title I schools in northern Beaufort in need of renovations. We are building newer schools and neglecting others. This is also not a good time for the school district to ask the public to trust that they are operating in the people’s best interest.

Q3: I have read recently that there are school districts that are “going into the housing business.” They use the opportunity as a way to provide affordable housing for teachers and staff who need it. They also incorporate programs to ensure the teachers are managing their money effectively and teach them about the housing market in hopes they would want to eventually buy a house in the area, in hopes they would stay. It is a process that can work and I’d be interested in hearing more about it.

Q4: We need more programs that target African Americans (males especially). The regular curriculum is not enough. Exposure is key. I created a program that affords students the opportunity to visit colleges, hear from college students/athletes and reps. They’re able to visit businesses, talk to businessmen and see how businesses are run. These types of outlets, along with others, will subsequently help this issue. There are programs like the Extra Mile Club that seek to build student athletes with leadership skills, confidence and character. Other programs like the Neighborhood Outreach program, work in communities along with teachers who agree to continue teaching and tutoring after school.

Q5: Bridging the academic achievement gap; teacher recruitment and retention; and accountability and transparency.

Q6: If elected I would appeal for the firing of Jeff Moss. If this did not go through with the new board, I would publicly state that we must press on to solely focus on the students and make sure something such as this never happens again.

Q8: I’ve spent my entire life (apart from my undergrad years) here in Beaufort. I’ve struggled and I’ve succeeded. I’ve gone through the BCSD system. I know what has worked for me and I know what hasn’t. … I am willing to stand up for what is right. Elected or not, that will never change. I didn’t stand up when the superintendent failed to act ethically; I was standing up all along for all students.

Q9: The issue is not over. It is my belief and the belief of many of the people I have spoken with all over Beaufort County that he must go. It is my hope that either his evaluation or with the new board, post election, it will be decided that he most go. … The school board should do what is right and not focus on what he has done right. As of now, it is unclear who works for who.

DISTRICT 6
(Okatie, Some Pritchardville and most of Sun City)

Paul Roth (incumbent)

Q1: Did not respond

Q3: Did not respond

Q4: Did not respond

Q5: Did not respond

Q6: Did not respond

Q8: Did not respond

Q9: Did not respond

Patricia Montgomery

Q1: I am against this sales tax. As an educator with over 40 years of experience in public school education, I have been an advocate, when appropriate, for the financial support of our schools so that students, teachers and staff have state-of-the-art facilities capable of supporting academic, personal and social development programs necessary for success in today’s world. The criteria for my support have been based on the age of the facilities; the safety of the facilities; the capacity of the facilities; whether the facilities are congruent with the overall goals of the school district, namely, improvements in the teaching and learning paradigm; whether the economics of a tax increase/referendum or budgetary expenditure can be justified by sound fiscal policy over the term of the referendum; and whether the need for a tax increase/referendum can be clearly explained to the public that will have to carry the tax burden. Unfortunately, all of these criteria have not been met by the present school board in its call for public approval of a one percent sales tax this November 2016. … In a district that is short over 200 teachers annually, public support for the referendum would be more justified if the tax increase was for significantly improvements in teacher recruitment and retention since the absence of quality teachers in classrooms across the school system is having a very negative effect on student academic performance.

Q3: While some might see the superintendent’s suggestion as laudable and innovative, districts across the country have most often determined that school systems should not be in the housing business, even where, as is true in Beaufort County, there is a shortage of teachers and the cost of living is high. On the other hand, Hertford County in North Carolina is among a group of school districts from San Francisco to Newark, N.J. that have recognized the need for affordable teacher housing and have built or leased apartments for teachers. But, even in these districts, many board members, educators and the public continue to worry that having their school systems provide housing isn’t the best solution. … Rather, the answer lies in increasing teacher pay. … The district must take the lead in forming coalitions with other school districts in the state to aggressively lobby the legislature to increase the base pay for teachers in all South Carolina school districts and find new progressive formulas for school funding. … The board, together with the County Council, Beaufort Housing Authority and the Affordable Housing Coalition must work quickly to enact options such as: (1) working with developers to include affordable housing in residential neighborhoods; (2) providing tax relief for developers who do so; and (3) subsidizing affordable leases for teachers who contract to work in the district for a minimum of three to five years.

Q4: First, the district must make closing the achievement gap a district priority. The Beaufort County School District has given lip service to closing the gap but has not established this goal as its major priority. … Our educational research is replete with school districts that have successfully closed the achievement gap, with most having taken these steps and the ones listed below. BCSD can and should implement these steps this academic year: enhanced cultural competence. Consider students’ diversity to be an asset to increase faculty’s cultural competence; be sensitive to students’ home cultures; and understand and capitalize on students’ culture, abilities, resilience and effort. … Also support students via mentors, tutoring, peer support networks, and role models.

Q5: Working with my fellow board members to establish transparency in board operations and deliberations and respect for the public in interactions at board meetings as well as improved communications so that trust is re-established between the board and the community it serves. Priority 2: Having staff provide the board with detailed, ongoing assessments of the effectiveness of established and new programs and at public meetings so that the board and the public can determine whether dollars spent are achieving set academic goals. Priority 3: Increasing diversity in the staff and administration of the schools and policy to support school leadership teams to address the achievement gap.

Q6: As stated in survey item 5 above, I would work with my fellow board members to have open, respectful communications with the public at all times. It is also critical that the board provides our communities with the rationale for its actions supported by clear data and alternatives that have been considered. Given the present lack of trust, the board would also do well to hold forums in each school board election district to hear the concerns and interests of our constituents in a more informal setting than is possible in traditional board meetings. Respect for the public also calls for a reduction in the number of closed Executive Sessions and that board meetings start on-time rather than going into Executive Sessions for an hour or more while the public waits for the opening of the main meeting.

Q8: I have over 40 years of service as a teacher, guidance counselor, child study team coordinator, principal, assistant superintendent, and superintendent in urban and suburban public schools and at national, regional, and state levels of public education. My focus is on providing rigorous, standards-based and relevant instruction to students for the 21st century. … I have been fortunate to have been the recipient of numerous community and organizational awards, including the NJ NAACP Visionary Leader Award; the Woman of Achievement Award for Leadership in Education, Kappa Community Development Corp.; the Distinguished Service Award, NJ World Languages GAINS Project, Fairleigh Dickinson University; the Distinguished Education Award, Coalition of 100 Black Women; and the Oglatha Terry Flake Gibson Scholarship Fund Award for Educational Leadership. I am active in the greater Bluffton-Hilton Head Island community as a member of Campbell Chapel AME Church, the Hilton Head Island- Bluffton Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., a national community service organization, and she serves on the Board of The Mitchelville Preservation Project.

Q9: It is indeed more than unfortunate that our superintendent had to admit guilt on two of the three ethics charges against him, and it is clear that the ethics commission had strong reservations about the third charge of changing the nepotism policy as well. I admit that I am astounded that the BCSD board has not issued its own reprimand in light of the state ethics commission actions. We do not know whether the board is prevented from sharing its actions relative to the superintendent with the public or whether no action was taken by the board. As a result, I do not think that significant segments of the public see the issue as being over which sets the stage for continued distrust by the public and limits the ability of the board to focus on major issues of teacher retention and pay, academic achievement gaps among some student groups, establishing a rigorous curriculum (which is different from just providing teachers with subject texts and materials) and an effective benchmark assessment program. I would hope that given board attorney advice, this board (and future ones as well) will be able to issue, at the least, a statement of the ethical behavior it expects of its superintendents and legally appropriate actions it will take whenever those expectations are not met. The board can also establish through its contracts with superintendents, whether the contract is a new one or a renewal, the kind of breaches in behavior and leadership actions, that will result in a breach of contract

DISTRICT 9
(Portions of Bluffton)

Christina Gwozcz

Q1: I am against this sales tax. Schools don’t build themselves, but the current board is asking for a huge 16 percent increase in sales taxes (from 6 percent to 7 percent) for a decade. Existing taxes are already collecting more money as the county grows without any increase in the sales tax rate. $300 million is such an enormous amount of money it can’t possibly be spent judiciously. The district’s “wish list” has projects totaling $217 million yet an additional $83 million would be collected and available to the district. The “penny tax” exclusively funds building projects. Not a dime goes to operations, student instruction, improving academic performance, etc. If the district is going to spend nearly one third of one billion dollars on buildings, the operational costs of the school district will increase astronomically and where will those funds come from?

Q3: No, I do not think the school district should be in the housing business. However, Beaufort County has the highest cost of living of any county in South Carolina and teachers’ salaries are notoriously low, so affordable housing would be very helpful, especially for young, single teachers who may have school loans and do not have the added benefit of income from a partner or spouse. As I recall, the district has given stipends to offset the higher living costs here. Another reason it may be hard to retain teachers here is because job opportunities for their partners/spouses are limited in our area.

Q4: At the Aug. 16 board meeting, Dr. Dereck Rhoads presented a program called “100 Voices” which is being implemented to address this very issue. One-hundred African- American students who are identified as “nearly proficient” in grades 3-5 will receive additional attention and instruction from certain teachers in an attempt to improve their academic performance. I think parental support is critical for this program, or any other like it, to succeed. Outreach programs are needed to help the parents/guardians create a home environment which is conducive to learning. Learning must go on at home for the student to be successful in school. I wish this 100 Voices program was not limited to one race. I imagine there are other minority and non-minority students who would benefit from it.

Q5: Priority 1: Put more value on the community’s input. The current school board ignored the public outcry last year regarding the whole nepotism issue. There is no dialogue between the board and taxpayers and there should be. Priority 2: Be transparent and not hide behind executive closed-door sessions. Priority 3: Be fiscally responsible while making student instruction and academic performance THE priority.

Q6: The updated nepotism policy is long overdue, but it is a start in the right direction. The board needs to change the way it functions and allow dialogue and interaction with the community. The current board leadership seems to be overly concerned about losing control if they allow any type of give and take with the community.

Q8: I think my life experiences will allow me to be a very effective board member. I have considerable business and board experience. I am comfortable with numbers and statistics as I earned my undergraduate degree in mathematics. I am a good listener and treat others with respect and kindness even when we see things differently. I have highly honed critical thinking and decision making skills as a physician. I am a problem solver with integrity. I also have the parental perspective as all three of my children went completely through the Bluffton public school system from kindergarten to 12th grade.

Q9: Yes, only because the current school board has decided that they will not take any action on Moss’ ethics violations. The board is his employer. If I was on the board, I would consider violations of the state ethics acts as grounds for discipline or dismissal.

Chris Epps 

Q1: I am against this sales tax. We need to fix the spending problem first before we look at additional funding avenues.

Q3: The school board needs to focus on education, not the development business. Instead, we need to work with the local universities to develop an education pipeline for people from this area that are already accustomed to the unique challenges of living here.

Q4: We need to look within our education system for answers to these types of problems. For one, teachers have great insight into areas where we can improve. We need to support and give them tools to be successful in solving issues like this.

Q5: Priority 1: Restore confidence in the school board. Priority 2: Economic development through education. Priority 3: Provide students tools they need to be successful in their education and life.

Q6: It will not be easy. We will need first to have more transparency in the decision process. Then, step by step proves to the electorate that the board can be trusted again.

Q8: As an architect, I am trained to find solutions to a set of problems through the help of specialists. I have also served on both nonprofit and governmental boards as well as Rotary in high school and the Beaufort County Anti-Bullying Task Force.

Q9: Let Mr. Moss go and move forward on gaining back the trust of the people of Beaufort County.

Bridgette Frazier

Q1: I am against this sales tax. Without certain stipulations in place, I would be against the proposed sales tax. Though the sales tax initiative is indeed one of the methods used to bolster revenue for local funding for the school system to cover capitol building and improvements other factors must be considered first. The current budget that the board oversees is not being dictated in the most optimal way, I believe that until the board shows a greater plan on its current fiscal operation that a sales tax initiative without a clear plan and with too much ambiguity would further enhance public mistrust. Make no mistake about it, however, the sales tax would garner revenue for one of my platform issues which is to build a school in Beaufort County that focuses solely on the arts. So without explicit details and without restoring trust, this will be a difficult task.

Q3: Housing a teacher is not necessarily a bad idea, it is simply not the best idea. I believe creating a workshop that connects teachers with Realtors and brokers that lays out steps to purchase a single-family home, townhouse or condo would be a greater idea.

Q4: As a certified teacher of 11 years who is reading-endorsed and has developed plans for teaching struggling readers, there are many ideas available to close the gap. One idea would be to identify the schools with the highest achievement gap percentages and place a reading specialist at each of those schools who will work with core class teachers to facilitate strategies and tactics to work directly with low readers. Another strategy would be to add reading as a class to the district’s curriculum that would be individualized to raise struggling readers and challenge advanced readers. … The most important of all of these would be to adopt reading programs that are student driven … . Bringing parents on board to show them how to reinforce and aide their child will be another advantageous instrument.

Q5: Priority 1: Restoring public trust. Priority 2: Closing the achievement gap. Priority 3: Reducing the teacher turnover rate

Q6: The public’s trust would be won back by creating a more public friendly environment at board meetings, avoiding excessive closed executive meetings and by hosting board workshops that seek to gain the honest perspective of all public stakeholders in a civil and productive fashion.

Q8: Being a certified classroom teacher who has taught in two states at public, private and charter schools with recent classroom experience brings the type of insight and foresight that no other candidate has. There are existing issues in the district that I have seen firsthand and also seen eradicated in a previous school district in which I worked.

Q9: The issue of unethical practices will forever be an issue without a plan of accountability. If the atmosphere remains on the board where one is able to perpetuate unethical behavior, it will forever be a problem. The board should address to the public how it plans to deal with any further breaches of that type of behavior.

Bill Fletcher

Q1: I am in favor of the sales tax. The sales tax is actually projected to generate $28 million per year ($280 million total over the 10-year period). Of the $280 million, approximately $100 million will be paid by non-residents who visit and spend money in our county. I have provided a more detailed explanation outlining my support for this measure on my website, www.voteforfletcher.com.

Q3: The high cost of living/housing in our region has been well documented, and I am certainly sympathetic to the need for our teachers to have access to affordable housing. I do not believe the district should “be in the housing business” in the sense that it should build, rent, manage and maintain residential facilities for our teachers, however, I do believe that our teachers, and by extension our community, would be well-served to explore innovative solutions to this very real problem. To be fair, the superintendent has been clear that any such solution would not be paid for with funds from the district’s budget, but rather from grants and other sources. I view the superintendent’s proposal as the beginning of a conversation which merits further discussion and input, not only from the board of education, but also from the private sector and our community at large.

Q4: The district’s recent announcement of launching the “100 Voices” initiative is an encouraging step in addressing the achievement gap. The earlier we identify at-risk students, the better chance we have of helping them to ultimately succeed in the classroom.

Q5: Priority 1: Trust: Take pro-active steps to rebuild trust between the community and the board of education. The BoE will not need to issue public statements or press releases defending their integrity if they act with integrity. Actions speak louder than words. Priority 2: Growth: Ensure fiscally responsible solutions to address the projected increase in student enrollment, particularly in the Bluffton/Hilton Head cluster, as well as exploring innovative solutions to retaining quality teachers. Priority 3: Learning: The district has seen measurable improvements in many areas the past few years, but more work needs to be done, particularly with regard to closing the achievement gap. The district has recently announced the “100 Voices Strong” program to help identify and assist a portion of our at-risk students, which is certainly a step in the right direction, but there is more work to be done.

Q6: Winning back the public trust will take a monumental effort by the board of education. We need to listen to our community, improve their ability to communicate directly with board members, and work together for the betterment of our students. Improving communication begins by listening to our stakeholders and then addressing their concerns. I can appreciate the fact that board meetings must be run on a schedule with an agenda, but there is absolutely no reason why individual board members cannot set aside time to meet with their constituents for town hall meetings or something similar. I have an “open door policy” and my clients know they can come see me any time at the office. I will maintain that same policy for our stakeholders who want to talk to me about their concerns.

Q8: I am a trusted businessman. Time and time again I read about the community’s lack of trust in the superintendent and/or the school board. For the last 18 years, I have worked diligently to earn the trust of our community in my professional capacity. Without that relationship of trust, my business would not exist. I am a former educator. I have had experience as a teacher and can identify with many of the challenges our teachers face today. They have an ally in me. I am a parent. As a parent, I have been actively involved in the education of my children. To my knowledge, I’m the only candidate for the District 9 seat who currently has children (four) attending schools within the district (my youngest son will graduate high school in 2023). This means I am not only personally invested in the success of our education system, but voters (particularly parents) will also know that any policy or proposal that affects students and parents will affect me and my family as well. We are in this together!

Q9: The current board has already made the determination that there will be no further action taken regarding this matter.