5 takeaways of Sumter School District board election

5 new trustees will be on 9-member board after Tuesday

BY BRUCE MILLS
bruce@theitem.com
Posted 11/8/18

The seemingly most anticipated election in Sumter this midterm, for six seats on the Sumter School Board, concluded Tuesday night with Frank Baker and Shawn Ragin taking the two county-wide at large seats - which were up for the public's vote for …

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5 takeaways of Sumter School District board election

5 new trustees will be on 9-member board after Tuesday

Posted

The seemingly most anticipated election in Sumter this midterm, for six seats on the Sumter School Board, concluded Tuesday night with Frank Baker and Shawn Ragin taking the two county-wide at large seats - which were up for the public's vote for the first time - and Brian Alston, Sherril Ray and Mac McLeod winning their respective area races. Incumbent Johnny Hilton ran unopposed for the Area 4 seat.

Here are five key takeaways from the board's elections on Tuesday.

1. Five new board members

The nine-member board now has five different faces as a result of the election.

That is unusual.

Interim Superintendent Debbie Hamm, a former long-time administrator in Richland School District 2 in Columbia, said Wednesday she cannot recall in her administrative experience a new board majority being elected in a single night.

2. Familiar faces return in different capacity

Baker and Ray, who won the Area 2 seat, are both life-long educators in Sumter County.

Baker has 44 years of experience in Sumter public schools, including 23 years as a superintendent. Ray worked almost 40 years in the former Sumter School District 2 and the now-consolidated district. She also previously served as principal at Lakewood High School and Furman Middle School.

McLeod, the new Area 3 representative, also has experience in the public schools, serving five years as a former Sumter District 2 board member before consolidation in 2011.

3. Adding new faces to the mix

Of 21 total candidates in the six school board races, Alston - a Rembert resident - was the youngest at 29, a point on which he campaigned.

He's now the new Area 1 trustee.

Ragin, 32, was the youngest at-large candidate and second-youngest overall. He narrowly defeated incumbent Bonnie Disney, who was an appointed incumbent from when the Sumter County Legislative Delegation created the at-large seats last year, to receive the second-most votes and secure a two-year term at-large seat. Alston does not have experience in professional education but campaigned on bringing a new face to the "future of education." Ragin is headmaster at Ragin Preparatory Christian Academy.

4. High priority: the superintendent search

The new board members come in to face an uncommon scenario - one of their first major tasks as a nine-member board will be to help select the district's next full-time superintendent in the spring.

A professional search consulting firm has already been hired to assist in the national search process. B.W.P. and Associates will be in town later this month for three days of community engagement. That engagement will include interviews with board members and community group meetings.

5. How the final votes stacked up

Baker was the top vote-getter for the at-large seats by a wide margin.

Every registered voter in Sumter could select two at-large members. Baker tallied 10,029 votes, or 24.5 percent of the 40,898 total, at-large votes cast. Ragin finished second with 7,531 votes, or 18.4 percent. Disney came in third place with 7,002 votes, or 17.1 percent. Bubba Rabon finished fourth with 5,876 votes (14.4 percent). None of the four other at-large candidates or write-ins carried more than 7.3 percent of the vote.

In Area 1, Alston won fairly easily with 1,352 of the overall 3,495 votes cast, or 38.7 percent. Caleb Kershaw Jr. came in second place with 775 votes, and Barbara Bowman was third with 717 votes.

In Area 2, Ray captured 1,279 votes (40.3 percent), followed by Charles Smith with 1,011 votes (31.9 percent). John Michalik finished last with 845 votes.

Like Alston, McLeod won handily in Area 3 with 1,573 of the 3,907 ballots cast, or 40.3 percent. Jason Johnson finished second with 891 votes (22.8 percent), and Josh Coleman came in third with 725 votes, or 18.6 percent. Neither of the other two candidates or write-ins received 10 percent of the total votes.

Area 4 incumbent Johnny Hilton was the only candidate on the ballot, and he earned 98.8 percent of the 3,917 votes cast. Write-in candidates had 46 votes in the area.

Totals from the South Carolina Election Commission are unofficial until Friday morning, when the county voter registration board will certify the election.