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GOP stuffs Education Superintendent Ballot

It's One Of The Most Heavily-republican Races For State Office This Year, With Five Gop Candidates And Just A Single Democrat Vying To Fill The State Superintendent Of Education Office Inez Tenenbaum Will Vacate.

click to enlarge All Business Bob Staton and Attorney Karen Floyd
  • All Business Bob Staton and Attorney Karen Floyd

The Republican primary candidates are Karen Floyd, Elizabeth Moffly, Bob Staton, Kerry Wood, and Mike Ryan.

Don't let the country club demeanor and dress of Karen Floyd fool you — this front-runner is smart and well-read on the major issues of this race. She also has the makings of a consummate politician.

A major supporter of "anything" that gives parents more choice for educating their kids — be it statewide charter school districts, school choice, tax credits, whatever — Floyd also sides with Gov. Mark Sanford on "child-weighted" school funding, where a baseline of state education dollars are attached to each and every child, but additional funding is tacked on to individual students based on their education needs.

When it comes to the issue of property tax relief and state education funding, Floyd says she first wants to see what plan emerges from the General Assembly before she comments on it. Able to argue both sides of the issue, Floyd denies she's fence-straddling. But she is.

While quick to credit Tenenbaum's administration for SAT increases, Floyd remains critical of the overall job done by the state's K-12 educators and administrators: "Last is last," she said last week from a downtown Charleston coffee shop, adding that something has to be done about the state's atrocious high school dropout rate.

She decries criticisms that she is for "privatizing" public education, saying people misunderstand the idea behind hiring outside experts to help schools and districts that repeatedly do not make the grade.

Floyd's position that the PACT testing system needs to be completely reworked because it's not "fiscally responsible" sounds odd at first. But, she hopes, citizens will share her opinion that the PACT isn't working because its results aren't released until a year after students are tested, it doesn't address remedial learning issues, and it doesn't "meet statutory requirements" of the state's education accountability legislation.

Elizabeth Moffly agrees the PACT test needs to be scrapped, especially after hearing stories about how school curriculums are being warped to meet testing requirements and students vomiting from the stress.

"I have heard stories of kids stabbing themselves in the wrist with a fork over the test — it's not a healthy environment, and it's not conducive to education," says Moffly. "PACT-Man is eating our children."

Moffly decided to run for office after a frustrating and unsuccessful attempt to work with the Charleston County School District.. While she understands the major reason for statewide funding control — to make up for wealth inequities in various counties — she also sees the need for it. While it may be "unfair" to pigeonhole Moffly as a frustrated mom who probably should have run for Charleston County School Board, it would also be largely accurate.

click to enlarge Kerry Wood, Mike Ryan, and Elizabeth Moffly are the race's outsiders looking in
  • Kerry Wood, Mike Ryan, and Elizabeth Moffly are the race's outsiders looking in

Unlike the rest of the candidates, Mike Ryan actually works in education as an assistant principal at Wando High. Fittingly, he seems to have the most "where the rubber meets the road" ideas for improving education.

"Where some of my opponents think our state's public education should be run like a business, I think it should be run like a school bus, with the most experienced driver behind the wheel," says Ryan.

Like Floyd on education funding, Ryan straddles the fence on the efficacy of a statewide charter school district, saying that while he favors more options for families, there's not been enough time to evaluate the state's existing charter schools. But he's adamantly opposed to the Put Parents in Charge Act, as it would put public monies into private schools.

A seemingly lone Republican voice calling for more state-funded preschool education programs, Ryan was gladdened by the state losing the "adequacy" lawsuit, forcing it to expand rural reading programs for 4-year-olds.

The gap in basic reading abilities between incoming first-graders, he thinks, is one of the factors that lead to the state's woeful ninth grade bottleneck and its high school graduation rate, the lowest in the nation.

Ryan would prefer to have schools funded through state sales taxes, "that way we could offer an equal educational opportunity to every child in the state," he says, adding that it would make up for differences in property wealth between counties like Charleston and Jasper.

When Ryan criticizes his opponents for wanting to run education like a business, he's basically pointing the finger at Bob Staton, the other front-runner with Floyd.

Staton, who chairs a bank and is the president of an insurance company, says that he's both pro-business and "pro-kid," and points to the eight years he has spent as a member of the state's Education Oversight Committee as proof.

Unlike all the other candidates, Staton would prefer localities to be totally in charge of funding their own school systems. "I think it's a local issue," he says, adding that he still endorses a state education funding plan the oversight committee came up with a few years ago that takes into consideration the difficulty — and added expense — of educating kids in at-risk settings.

Like Ryan, he thinks full-day, 4-year-old kindergarten could go a long way toward the state's growing achievement gap between its different socioeconomic classes (read: urban/suburban whites and inner-city/rural blacks).

Kerry Wood, the computer programmer and military vet, not the oft-injured Chicago Cubs fireballer, supports charter schools continuing to be governed by communities, not Columbia.

"The more local control, the better," says Wood, who thinks the adequacy lawsuit has more to do with inequities along the I-95 corridor than it has to do with the general level of education in South Carolina.

Wood doesn't see how more pre-K programs will do anything to stop the rate of teachers and administrators abandoning schools, districts, and even the profession. "Some schools are seeing 30 percent turnover rates," he claims. " I don't see how expanding to 4-year-old kindergarten is going to instill some sort of stability in those schools."

With five different candidates in the June 13 Republican primary, voters will have plenty of positions to choose from. With the possibility of Democrats crossing party lines to vote in the primary, the primary results may be twisted by which of the five most appeal to the other major party.


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