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House 79, state ed superintendent candidates meet for forum

Posted: October 26, 2010 3:36 p.m.
Updated: October 27, 2010 5:00 a.m.

With one week to go before the Nov. 2 election, S.C. House District 79 Democratic candidate Mia Butler and S.C. Superintendent of Education candidates Frank Holleman (D) and Timothy Moultrie (L) took the stage on Monday night for a political forum.

Absent from the forum were House District 79 Republican candidate Sheri Few, and S.C. Superintendent of Education candidates Mick Zais (R), Doretha Bull (G) and Tony Fayyazi (IP).

In a written statement read aloud at the forum, Fayyazi said he is “not in favor of the present system … and will do whatever is in my power to change it … including considering vouchers or tax credits that would improve the future of all of our children.”

Fayyazi also said he supports improving the quality of leadership and teachers in schools, as well as finding ways to give teachers competitive wages.

Zais, whose statement was also read aloud at the forum, said he is qualified because of his leadership ability, experience in education and proven record of results.

“For me, campaigning for this office has never been about personal enrichment or the beginning of a political career. Quite frankly, I’m running because I know I can make a difference in the lives of our students,” he said in the statement.

During the forum, Butler, Holleman and Moultrie answered a variety of questions on topics ranging from lottery funding, infrastructure challenges in District 79 to school facilities and life experiences.

In response to a question about what steps she would take to provide essential government services during economic turmoil while minimizing its impact on constituents, Butler said comprehensive tax reform is desperately needed.

“One of the things that is crippling our state is Act 388 and the impact that it has, not only on our public education system, but also on the business community. In this economy, the state and all of its residents are going to have to do the same thing, and that’s tighten our belts,” Butler said. “Eliminate wasteful spending. There are a number of ways that we can help build a reserve fund so that we are able to cushion the blow. It’s essential that we look at the system that is creating some of the challenges that we have, and that system is an outdated tax code that needs to be fixed.”

Regarding what impact the state’s education, accountability and reporting requirements has on the state’s economic and recruiting efforts, Holleman said that while accountability is necessary, public schools have gotten less credit for their achievements than they actually deserve because of “quirks” in the reporting system.

However, he added, if it’s done right and reported correctly, it can be used as a tool of encouragement to show that we are making progress and where we are making progress.

However, Moultrie said that bureaucracy, which he says has separate agendas, is the main problem.

“What sense does it make to provide the SAT to students who are not interested in going to college, except to serve the interests of a particular agenda of a particular bureaucracy?” he asked.

In response to questions about what effect Act 388 has had on education, all candidates agreed it needs to be reformed.

“Our homes are hostage to this bonded debt and we have to connect the dots as a society and recognize that we the citizens are the source of wealth. The government creates no wealth. If we give them the opportunity to again tax our homes then our concerns about the education system will be a moot point,” Moultrie said. “In order for us to preserve the opportunity for us to have an educational system that serves all is creating a flat sales tax based system.”

Holleman, who referred to Act 388 as a train wreck, said there needs to be a consensus for a tax reform proposal that provides stable funding for education.

“We need to work as a community…to come up with a consensus of a tax reform proposal that will produce stable, adequate and equitable funding for public education,” Holleman said. “Exactly what that will be we don’t know because it will be part of the political process. It may not be perfect but we have to work towards a system better than the one we have now which has proved to be inadequate, unstable and inequitable.”

Butler, who also agreed that Act 388 has had a negative impact on small businesses and public schools, said she would be willing to look at uniform millage for school districts.

“That means that every South Carolina resident pays the same amount of property taxes regardless of where they live and that would help level the economic development opportunities across the state. Of course, some may be opposed to that because it would mean in increase in taxes for some and a decrease for others,” she said. “But that certainly may be a step in the right direction in terms of looking to address and possibly fix the ills that have been caused by Act 388.”

Regarding school vouchers and tax credits, Butler and Holleman said they do not support issuing school vouchers to attend private schools. Holleman said school vouchers would undercut funding for public education, could cost hundreds of millions of dollars and could “knock a hole in the state budget.”

Butler said she is adamantly opposed to taking more money out of public education, and a good public education is critical to developing a skilled work force and strong economy.

However, Moultrie said he supports issuing school vouchers, as he believes that a large portion of money in the education system is used to support the bureaucracy. But issuing vouchers, he said, would allow students to pursue other interests, apprenticeships, technical schools or attend college early and “attach the money as it comes in.”

Monday’s forum was sponsored by the teacher forums of Kershaw County and Richland County School District Two and the Kershaw County Chamber of Commerce.

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