Sumter school board candidates get one last shot

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

Before next week's election, at-large candidates vying for two seats on the nine-member Sumter School Board participated in another meet-the-candidates forum Tuesday.

Five of the eight candidates took to the stage at Central Carolina Technical …

This item is available in full to subscribers

Sumter school board candidates get one last shot

Posted

Before next week's election, at-large candidates vying for two seats on the nine-member Sumter School Board participated in another meet-the-candidates forum Tuesday.

Five of the eight candidates took to the stage at Central Carolina Technical College for the event, which was sponsored by the Sumter County League of Women Voters, Sumter County NAACP and I-CAR, a community group based in Rembert.

Participants included the three life-long educators in the race - Frank Baker, Bonnie Disney and Lloyd Hunter - and two businessmen - Jay Linginfelter and Bubba Rabon.

Another at-large candidate, James Burton, plant operations manager at Continental Tire's Sumter plant, was out of the country on business, according to event organizers, and unable to attend. He attended last week's teacher-sponsored forum.

Two other at-large candidates, William Byrd and Shawn Ragin, also didn't attend. Neither attended last week. Byrd, one of the two current at-large board members appointed by the county legislative delegation last year, hasn't attended school board meetings since July because of an illness and doesn't appear to be running an active campaign.

Ragin, 32, is founder and headmaster of Ragin Preparatory Christian Academy, a private K-9 school in Sumter with 42 students. Before starting the school, Ragin was a public school classroom teacher for eight years in Sumter and Lee counties. He has also run to be Sumter's coronor twice. When called Wednesday, Ragin said he had a schedule conflict Tuesday that prevented him from attending.

Candidates answered nine questions with three minutes maximum for each response and also provided a summary statement at the close of the event on their candidacy for the board.

Possibly because event organizers were three community groups, several questions were focused on how the candidates would interact with the community and were different from questions asked Oct. 23 at the forum organized by the Sumter Teacher Forum.

About 100 people attended the event.

The following is a summary of the participating candidates' responses, with candidates listed in alphabetical order:

FRANK BAKER

A superintendent for 23 years in Sumter County and a life-long resident, Baker emphasized he's connected to all areas of the community and would listen to all stakeholders as a board member.

He said to build consensus and support in the community when making key decisions, board members must listen and be responsive to all constituents. He said the board didn't do that earlier this year when it closed two low-enrollment schools in rural parts of the county (F.J. DeLaine Elementary and Mayewood Middle), even though it offered six community-conversation sessions.

Describing himself as passionate about education, Baker said, as a trustee, acting in the best interest of students would be his No. 1 priority.

On the ideal role of the board and the superintendent, Baker said it's best if it's a "total team effort." Board members and the superintendent may not always agree, he said, because constituents may sway a trustee's decision.

He said he would support a superintendent as long as that person acted in the best interest of students.

"I am accessible. I will listen. I will take suggestions and carry ideas back from the stakeholders to share with the board," Baker said. "I am passionate about what I do. I have always put children first, and I will continue to do that. And I can promise you if I am elected, I will carry out all those things I shared with you."

BONNIE DISNEY

The second current at-large member, Disney pointed to what the district has accomplished in the last 14 months since she was appointed to the board and Interim Superintendent Debbie Hamm became the district's new leader. Those accomplishments include increased partnerships with business and industry, moving forward with the concept of a technical high school and holding a three-day professional development conference for teachers during the summer, she said.

She said she's been engaged as a board member and has the "energy and passion" to hold the position. Like Baker, Disney also said acting in the best interest of the child is most important and would meet with any, and all, stakeholders.

She offered that the board and district does want to make everyone happy, but, in the end, the district must do everything it can to educate the children and prepare for today's high-skills, knowledge economy.

In making key decisions as a board member, Disney said it's important to listen to all stakeholders, but it's also important to offer options and see what's working elsewhere. She pointed to the positive things she thinks is happening at the K-8 R.E. Davis College Preparatory Academy.

She said she thinks the district can continue to move forward.

"I want to serve this district because I believe I have the qualifications that will help us move to the next level," Disney said. "We have so much potential. This county has the power to create one of the best districts in South Carolina and perhaps in the United States. We're getting there. We cannot go backwards. We must choose carefully on the candidates we vote for."

LLOYD HUNTER

A former principal in Sumter County schools and a former superintendent outside of Sumter, Hunter thinks the district must improve student achievement above current levels.

He thinks effective leadership, starting with the school principal, sets the stage for the best delivery of education to the students. Hunter also said he thinks an effective principal who can create a good school environment helps with recruitment and retention of teachers.

Community stakeholders are also important, Hunter said, and the district must lead the process to engage the community. As a board member, he said he would talk to as many people as possible in making board decisions. Building relationships and trust within the community helps in the process of building consensus.

The key interest of the board should be student learning, he said.

"Schools exist to educate children," Hunter said. "When that interest is served, then students receive a world-class education. The business' interests is served, and the citizen's interest is also served by having safer communities. So, by serving the interests of the students, then all interests in the community will be solved."

Hunter emphasized his leadership experience in schools allowed him to effectively match skills and expertise to meet needs and said he can effectively handle the responsibilities of a school board member.

JAY LINGINFELTER

Pointing to his volunteer and leadership experience, Linginfelter said he thinks he can help foster an environment where people work together in a spirit of cooperation with the end result of helping students achieve more.

He said student achievement needs to be the key interest of the board and that supporting teachers can help in that process.

As far as stakeholder engagement, Linginfelter said he's open to everybody and that building trust is important to building consensus. He also thinks he can work well with the legislative delegation and county council to help increase funding to the district.

"I am an open door to you," Linginfelter said, as he gave out his phone number to everyone in attendance at the forum and in a gesture to build trust.

He said he could bring "passion, vision and action" to the board.

"That's what you're going to get if I am elected," he said.

BUBBA RABON

Rabon said student discipline and achievement are main concerns currently in the district. He said he would apply his business approach as a board member.

He emphasized education can be more equitable and beneficial for all children if vocational and career center programs were built up more in Sumter.

Rabon also said the main interest of the board should be the students, and when their best interests are served then other community interests will fall into place and be taken care of.

As a board member, he said getting involved with the students and the community would build trust, and he also encouraged community groups to get involved in the educational process.

As far as recruiting and retaining teachers, Rabon said increased school safety would help in this area, as well as increasing teacher pay.

Given his business background and some experience lobbying in Washington with lawmakers, he thinks he could help the district get extra funding.

"I'm a businessman," Rabon said. "As far as money, with my experience in Washington, I think I can get our local governments to work with us."