2 candidates in District 9 race for Sumter school board; Bonnie Disney, Reginald Evans vie for post since no incumbents reside in new seat area


EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first in a series on the nine Sumter school board district seats that are up for election in November. Each week leading up to Election Day, The Sumter Item will analyze a district (alternatively called area) race and interview candidates on the ballot. All candidates will be contacted. Online, this series, like other election information, will be free to read as a public service.

Candidate Q&As in their own words will also be included in our Vote 2022 Guide that will publish Oct. 1.

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Many invested in the community say it is the most important election in Sumter in November.

All nine seats on Sumter School District's Board of Trustees are on the ballot. After the district's financial crisis became apparent in December 2016, the Sumter County Legislative Delegation added two seats to the seven-member school board in spring 2017. The delegation's purpose then in creating the new "at-large" county seats on the board was to bring additional focus and expertise to remedy the district's challenge.

Without an election that year, the delegation appointed the two trustees to the board, expanding it to nine members. In November 2018, these new at-large seats went up for the public's vote for the first time. Being at-large seats, every voter in Sumter County saw the race on the ballot, and the top two vote-getters won the seats.

The delegation specified in the original legislation that after the 2020 U.S. Census' redistricting to account for population shifts, the school board would switch to nine single-member districts for the 2022 election and moving forward. This spring, the delegation had General Assembly staff members who handled state redistricting also reconfigure Sumter County's seven districts into nine. Law requires electoral districts to encompass equal populations in each.

That means while you may not have moved since the last election, you may vote in a different district than previously. Voters can research sample ballots online at scvotes.org or learn more in The Sumter Item's Vote 2022 special guide publishing Oct. 1. All Sumter County voters should also receive a new voter registration card detailing their districts.

The financial challenges of 2016-17 are resolved now largely because of the work of district staff and administration as well as attrition. After recording a net loss of $4.3 million in 2016, depleting the district's general fund balance to $106,449, the district notched gains every year since and ended 2021 with $32.6 million in its bank account. Reports indicate the district added $1.4 million to that balance in 2022. The fiscal year ended June 30, and the audit is released in December.

Meanwhile, the board that took over in late 2018 - which includes the superintendent who was in charge in 2016 before he retired in 2017 then won an at-large seat - has been often controversial because of its own actions and internal divisions.

Those started with voting to reopen a closed school and subsequently the state Superintendent of Education declaring a "fiscal emergency" in the district in spring 2019. More recently, the board voted 5-4 to remove the last district superintendent after unanimously naming her to the post three years earlier. The vote appeared to violate Penelope Martin-Knox's contract that required her termination to be approved by a supermajority, which would have been six votes. A judge also found the vote was illegal because the surprise motion was not on the agenda, meaning it violated the Freedom of Information Act, a situation revealed by reporting in The Sumter Item.

Special interests tend to dominate the board's activity and conversations over policy and student and staff achievement and wellness, even while public education faces increased competition in recent years with growing educational options available to parents and families. Add onto that a nationwide teacher shortage.

That all sets the stage for the upcoming election.



Redistricting and the drawing of nine single-member districts created a district for this election - District 9, also referred to as Area 9 - with no incumbent living within its boundaries.

District 9 is in the City of Sumter and runs from Alice Drive east to Main Street in the downtown area with Swan Lake Iris Gardens as basically a southern border and the boundary going north up to South Pike to include a few areas just above Pike that are west of Dillon Park.

Two candidates have filed: Bonnie Disney and Reginald "Reggie" Evans.

Disney is a lifelong educator who is retired and was one of the delegation's two appointees to the new at-large seats in July 2017. She served about 16 months until the November 2018 election. In a field of several candidates, she finished third by 529 votes. The top-two vote getters that November (Frank Baker, who was superintendent in 2016, and Shawn Ragin, the founder and headmaster of a private Christian prep school in Sumter) took the pair of seats for four-year terms, on which they still sit.

Disney then ran for the District 6 seat in November 2020, losing to current trustee Gloria Lee.

Evans, who does not have experience as an educator but is a retired business owner, is a dual candidate having also filed for Sumter City Council Ward 1. State law prevents a person from holding two offices. Evans has said he intends to withdraw his name from one of the two races, but he had not made a decision as of Friday. He told The Item he is still talking with community members but is leaning toward staying in the school board race and withdrawing from the city council race.


Originally from Texas, Disney has lived in Sumter for a total of 35 years, including the last 32 years.

She describes herself as "having a very broad range of talents in education and experiences," including serving as an English teacher at Sumter High School for 13 years and more than 30 years total in public education. She has bachelor's degrees in English and Spanish and master's degrees related to education and teaching.

Disney worked for the state Department of Education from 2000-05 as a teacher-on-site specialist to build academic achievement in struggling and failing schools. That included time at Scott's Branch High School in Summerton and Lee Central High School in Lee County.

Later, she worked as an English/language arts consultant and was hired by districts across the state to help with academic services.

Those districts included poor districts in rural areas - including Denmark and Timmonsville - that had limited funding, and many were construed as "left behind" in the state. Disney said those areas "touch her heart more than anything."

"Those were the areas where I think I worked the hardest and really felt the best about," she said.

Her career also includes serving four years on the South Carolina State Board of Education.

Disney said she knows what teachers need because she has served in the trenches.

Her resume also includes a legal degree, which she said makes her qualified to deal with legal counsel as a trustee.

In her 1.5 years on the board in 2017-18, she helped initiate a board Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Committee that developed profiles on each school to showcase programs. Those profiles are still listed on the district's website.

Challenges facing the district include finding and keeping qualified teachers, she said, and that the board and district "can do better." That has translated to lower test scores and achievement for students, a second challenge she noted.

Another challenge is "public image." Disney said the board and Sumter County Council "need to work together, not against each other."

Improving in those areas would help with military members and industry personnel choosing to live in Sumter as opposed to Kershaw County and Columbia.

As far as what has, or has not, changed since she left the board four years ago and motivates her to continue to seek a seat now is improving student achievement. She ran in both elections since being appointed and lost twice.

"I think we dropped the ball way too quickly," she said. "I was only on the board for two years. Our scores are still not where they need to be. I know we had COVID, but everybody had COVID. We can't use anything as an excuse.

"Our school scores and our individual students' scores as a whole are not where they need to be. If we compare ourselves, let's say, to Kershaw County schools or to some schools in Columbia, we are going to see that we are going in the wrong direction. In fact, the last couple years, we keep falling and falling and falling."

She said creating a "new vision toward quality education and strong student outcomes" means supporting teachers and help on the part of parents to ensure students are doing their homework and are prepared. She noted Liberty STEAM Charter School has strong parental support system and said she thinks the district can work toward the same.


Evans said while he is not an educator, he would bring his business mindset to the table as a board member.

He owned Ben's Meat Market for five years on Broad Street many years ago and has an MBA from Webster University and also a master's degree in information management.

He also has done a lot of contract work, and his current work is associated with an online art gallery he created at www.Wawuart.com. He is medically retired and served in the Marine Reserves for 20 years.

Evans added he is also helping on the business and finance side with creating a new public charter school in Sumter for middle school boys to open in 2024-25. The group's application is due to the state Public Charter School District in Columbia by Nov. 1, Evans said.

When asked if he had considered whether that would be a conflict of interest with serving on Sumter school board because that would be a competing public school with the district, Evans said he did not consider it a conflict. He added he was not planning to be a board member for the proposed charter school and if any concerns were raised on the matter, he would seek guidance from the state Ethics Commission.

A 1981 graduate of Sumter High School, Evans' agenda as a trustee would include making all schools in the district - elementary, middle and high - nationally STEM-certified to help remedy open enrollment concerns and competition between district schools.

Even though that pursuit, at times, is based on school leadership, Evans said he would not be interested in "excuses" on the matter.

"Our kids don't deserve excuses or explanations," he said. "I am an outcome kind of manager. I am only concerned with the outcome. There is always a reason that you can say no. I want to find a reason to say yes."

He added STEM is "a new standard" in the 21st century.

On another major point, Evans said the district should more strongly consider building a new Sumter High School facility because the current school on McCrays Mill Road is about 40 years old and not up to date in appearance compared to other large high schools that are 5A in the state.

As far as successes currently in the district, Evans said he does not see many to be noteworthy.

He also noted concerns he has with lawsuits and pending lawsuits the district currently faces.

Evans has no immediate family - children or grandchildren - who attended schools in Sumter School District.

His focus would be "children first" and added that board members who seek to pursue personal agendas need to seek other political offices.

As far as political experience, Evans ran in 1998 for a board seat on the former Sumter School District 17 Board of Trustees but lost.