Ahead of the Nov. 6 election, eight of the nine candidates in the race for seats on the Georgetown County School Board shared their views during a forum Oct. 25 at the J.B. Beck Administration Building in Georgetown.
The four open seats include two at-large seats and contested seats for District 2 in Pawleys Island and District 7 in the western part of the county.
The candidates present were incumbents Jim Dumm, who serves in an at-large seat and as board chairman; Johnny Wilson, who serves in an at-large seat; Pat DeLeone, who serves District 2; and Arthur Lance, who serves District 7. Also running for at-large seats are Mike Cafaro and Brad Dunn. Tyler Easterling is running for District 2, and Zack Grate is running for District 7. Not present was Lynn Freeman who is running for an at-large seat.
The forum was sponsored by the Georgetown Alumni Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., the League of Women Voters of Georgetown County, the Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce and the GCSD Teacher Forum. Amy Armstrong, a member of the League of Women Voters and executive director of the South Carolina Environmental Law Project, was the moderator for the event.
During the forum, Cafaro said what sets him apart from other candidates is that he has been an educator for more than 40 years, with 30-plus of those years in a school.
“There is not much in school I can’t tell you about,” he said.
He added that he is running because he worked at the school district office for four years and saw some things he would like to change.
“I saw nepotism, favoritism and people retiring and coming back, making $400 a day,” Cafaro said. “The board members make $600 a month.”
He pointed out that there are two school board meetings a month, one called a meeting and the other called a work session, but they are the same thing. He would like to see the work session be a true work session where ideas are shared and things are discussed.
“Board members sit and get, they nod their heads and never question anything,” he said. “The board is supposed to be in charge, but the tail is wagging the dog.”
Dumm, who serves as executive director for Tara Hall Home for Boys, said one thing he learned as a member of the school board is do your homework.
“We are criticized for being a rubber stamp, but we get filled in on the issues before meetings,” he said. “That is the way the board works and we will continue to do it that way. I am proud of the things we have done.”
Dumm said the district’s schools and faculty are top-notch.
“I continue to be passionate about public education and the ability to strengthen it along the way,” he said.
Brad Dunn, who formerly served as the president of the South Carolina School Improvement Council, said he decided to run for school board because he feels that Christian values should be taught to children at home and in the classroom.
“It used to be that older people were respected by younger kids,” he said. “It is my prayer, my goal to one day make it that way again. If parents, students and faculty are all working together, everybody will be happy.”
Wilson, a native of Georgetown, said he is also a member of the South Carolina School Boards Association and the S.C. School Boards Insurance Trust.
“I care about our schools and our community, and I believe change can be made if we stand together and work as a group,” he said. “Changes need to be made, but most of the changes need to be made in Columbia.”
DeLeone, a former high school teacher, said she is most concerned about school safety and academics.
“I want each child to get the best education, academically and socially,” she said, adding that the school board has to work together to get things done. “Each member has one vote. We can’t do anything by ourselves. In order to do something, we have to work together.”
She also said she would like to hear more from teachers and parents.
“Changes need to be made, but the biggest problem is lack of communication between parents, teachers, administrators and board members,” she said. “Unless we hear from you, we can’t make changes.”
Easterling described herself as a professional businesswoman with two young children. She is president of The Brandon Agency, a marketing firm. As both a business leader and a parent, she said, she would bring skills and a new perspective to the board.
“My business employs about 100 people, many of whom are students coming out of college,” she said. “I see things these employees have problems with — soft skills — because they are used to talking in text. Our students need to be ready to go straight into jobs, even if they don’t go to college.”
Grate, who worked at the Howard Adult Education Center and in law enforcement for 10 years, said he will bring knowledge of the issues to the board. He said he would like to see town hall meetings where people are made aware of what is going on with the school district.
“Every community has a place where they have community meetings, and I never see people from the school board there,” he said. “A lot of folks don’t know what the school board is doing. We need to talk about not having money to pay bus drivers, custodians and cafeteria workers, but having plenty of money to give raises to the superintendent.”
Lance said he has served on the board for nine years and loves serving. He said he is tested and trusted.
“Remember, I am retired, I am free,” he said. “I love this job and I feel I have something more to offer the district.”