New board members will shape Sumter schools for years to come

Trustees will change anywhere from 3 to 5 representatives with election, will pick new superintendent

BY BRUCE MILLS bruce@theitem.com
Posted 11/1/18

Many would contend the Sumter School Board race is the most important election in Sumter County this election cycle.

Sumter School District has almost 17,000 students who will represent the future local workforce in our ever-growing 21st century …

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New board members will shape Sumter schools for years to come

Trustees will change anywhere from 3 to 5 representatives with election, will pick new superintendent

Posted

Many would contend the Sumter School Board race is the most important election in Sumter County this election cycle.

Sumter School District has almost 17,000 students who will represent the future local workforce in our ever-growing 21st century "knowledge economy" that is consistently evolving. According to widespread research, the economy of today and the future has an emphasis on technology, skills not labor and fewer, but higher-skilled, workers. That means K-12 education and growing links to post-secondary education are of utmost importance in every community, including Sumter.

The nine-member board could see anywhere from three to five new members come Election Day. Three area-seat incumbents are not running for re-election, and the two at-large seats are up for the public's vote for the first time on Nov. 6.

In 2017, the Sumter County Legislative Delegation added and appointed members those two at-large seats in the wake of the district's financial crisis from fiscal year 2016. In that year's audit report, released in December 2016, it was discovered the district overspent its budget by $6.2 million and had an ending fund balance of $106,449 - a critically low level, according to the district's auditor at the time.

In the wake of financial troubles, the former seven-member board and the district's superintendent at the time, Frank Baker, mutually agreed for him to retire in July 2017. Now, 16 months later, Baker - a lifelong educator with 23 years of experience as a superintendent in Sumter County - is running for one of those at-large seats.

Board members have authority over the district's now-$131.8 million budget. That budget is almost 10 percent larger than the combined City of Sumter's budget and Sumter County's budget of $119.9 million.

A sixth board seat is also up for election Nov. 6, but only incumbent Johnny Hilton's name will be on the ballot. He will be the presumed winner of the seat unless a write-in candidate earns more votes.

The board, which will be a mix of experienced and new members, also faces the decision of selecting the district's next full-time superintendent in the spring.

Interim Superintendent Debbie Hamm, a former Richland School District 2 superintendent who came on in August 2017, is in her second and final year with the district.

BOX

Where does your vote count?

- Every registered voter in Sumter County will be able to vote on the two non-partisan at-large seats for the Sumter School Board.

- Voters in Districts 1, 2, 3 and 4 will have the opportunity to vote for a third candidate to represent their respective area.

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More on the at-large seats

Every registered voter in Sumter County will be able to vote for any two of eight total candidates to fill the at-large seats on the board. The candidate who receives the most votes will have a four-year term on the board through November 2022. The candidate finishing with the second-highest vote tally on Nov. 6 will have a two-year term on the board and will face re-election in 2020. When the county's legislative delegation added the two at-large seats to the board last year, it decided that was the best way to stagger the seats.

Those two at-large seats will change to single-member seats in 2021 after the next decennial census with reapportionment. Then, Sumter School District will have nine single-member districts or seats.

21 total candidates for 6 available seats

District 1: Brian Alston, Barbara Bowman, Caleb Kershaw Jr. and Mark Myers

District 2: Charles Smith, John Michalik and Sherril Ray

District 3: Josh Coleman, Jason Johnson, Matthew "Mac" McLeod, Eartha Reed and John Shipman

District 4: Johnny Hilton

At large: Frank Baker, James Burton, William Byrd, Bonnie Disney, Lloyd Hunter, Jay Linginfelter, Bubba Rabon and Shawn Ragin