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School board incumbents, challengers talk FEP Phase 2, more

Posted: June 5, 2014 5:09 p.m.
Updated: June 6, 2014 5:00 a.m.

(Note: Candidates for school board answered these questions prior to Tuesday’s Kershaw County Board of School Trustees vote to approve a proposal to close Baron DeKalb, Bethune and Mt. Pisgah elementary schools and consolidate them into a North Central area elementary school.)

Seat No. 2

Q: (For Mark Sury) What qualifying experience do you have that makes you an appropriate choice for trustee?

Mark Sury: I am an involved parent who has served on school improvement councils (SIC) for over a decade. I am the current the SIC chairman at Lugoff-Elgin High School. I am a past SIC chairman for Stover Middle and Blaney Elementary schools. I am serving my third consecutive year on the superintendent’s parent cabinet. I have 18 years’ experience working with information technology. I received my associates of science degree in electronic systems technology from the Community College of the Air Force. My bachelor of science degree in computer information systems was earned from DeVry Institute of Technology. I also earned a master of arts degree in business from Webster University. Most importantly, I have two children who attend school in Kershaw County, and I am investing in the education of all our children in the community.

I believe my background in information technology will be a great asset in helping the district to determine what is the most innovative technology strategy moving forward.

Q: (For Nissary Wood) Why should people in your district vote to return you to your school board seat?

Nissary Wood: The people in my district should return me to the school board because I have kept my promise to be an advocate, accessible and accountable. I am a strong advocate for our students, parents, educators and our community. I stand up for what is right and fair more so than what is popular. I believe in Kershaw County’s ability to be great. Every student needs someone they know will tell their story. Every parent needs someone who will help them find a solution for their child. Every educator needs someone who will fight with them for better tools to teach our children.

I am accessible to my constituents. Any given week, I can be found actively volunteering in the schools. I attend the events that don’t involve my kids. I take food to the student athletes before games. I help with fundraising activities by buying donuts, selling coupon books or obtaining corporate donations for health fairs. I am one of the parents you see at the schools regularly just lending a hand.

I am always held accountable for my actions on the board. I know that the votes I cast directly impact the students, parents, administrators and our community. I do not take that lightly. Whether good or bad, you never have to question where I stand. I am not political. I do what I feel is in the best interest of all the children in our district. I would humbly ask for their vote and support because I am their voice!

Q: The state legislature has not funded local school districts at statutorily required per pupil levels in some time. County council has rarely increased the amount of money it supplies to the district. Would you support an effort to give the school district taxing authority so it can raise its own funds? Why or why not?

Sury: No, county council provides a balance to the needs of the citizens of Kershaw County. If the citizens of Kershaw County want additional funds for the schools, the citizens should be communicating with their council members to inform them of their desire to have additional millage put toward the school district.

Wood: Although it would be easier for the school district if we had taxing authority, I don’t feel that this is the ideal solution for our community. I trust in our ability as a district to make sound financial decisions. Were the school board to have taxing authority, we would not use it lightly. Our board is keenly aware of the strain additional taxes put on our constituents. That being said, I feel the ideal solution is one where all of our elected officials (town, city, county and state) work to provide the necessary funds for our schools. We all have a vested interest in ensuring that the people of Kershaw County have access to superior education. None of us should have the ability to raise taxes in a bubble.

Q: Do you support the pending bond referendum to fund Phase 2 of the facilities equalization plan (FEP)? Why or why not?

Sury: Yes, the FEP is expected to provide the physical buildings needed to support the educational needs for our children of Kershaw County for over 35 years or more at current student population levels. I strongly support the move of ATEC to the Central Carolina (Technical College) campus. I believe that move will result in (the) Kershaw County School District becoming a leader in South Carolina and the United States in providing a technical education that will allow our students to fill the jobs that are being created in the economy now and for the foreseeable future that do not require a four-year degree.

Wood: I support the bond referendum to fund Phase 2 of the Facilities Equalization Plan (FEP). For those who are not familiar with the background to this question, information regarding the plan can be found at the following site: http://www.kershaw.k12.sc.us/district/operations/facilities/.

I support the replacement of Camden, Wateree and Lugoff Elementary schools, as well as the renovations to Lugoff-Elgin High School (L-EHS). All three of these schools are in need of major repairs. The elementary schools are not up to current code. For example, the classrooms are too small, the infrastructure isn’t conducive for technology expansion and the schools plumbing, electrical and HVAC are not cost efficient. The cost of renovating these schools would be more than the cost to build replacements. With regard to L-EHS, the roof leaks and does not drain sufficiently, the student population has been increasing yearly and the building/grounds are not conducive to large athletic or community events. If we are to truly compete with our sister counties, we have to invest in our infrastructure.

Q: Do you support any of the Phase 2 options regarding the North Central area? If so, which one (i.e., what combination of closing any North Central elementary schools in favor of building a new elementary school near North Central middle and high schools) do you support? Why or why not?

Sury: Yes, I support the closing of the three schools as outlined in the plan. One consolidated school will allow the school district to provide resources to students of the North Central area at the same level provided to the children throughout the district. The consolidation would benefit the taxpayers of Kershaw County. The cost to educate an elementary student in the North Central area is over $2,000 more per student. With approximately 420 students attending a consolidated school, the district could realize an immediate savings of over $800,000 per year. The savings would allow the district to fund more arts related positions.

Wood: I support the Phase 2 option regarding the North Central area. I agree with the proposal to combine Mt. Pisgah, Bethune and Baron DeKalb elementary schools into one new elementary school. Like the schools in West Wateree, those schools are in need of major repairs. It would also take more money to renovate those schools and bring them up to current standards than it would be to replace them.

The difference between the North Central area and West Wateree lies in the population trend. Whereas the West Wateree schools have seen enrollment numbers increase, the schools in the North Central area have seen their student population steadily decrease. Because of the declining population in that area, it makes more fiscal sense to combine the schools. This would save the school district approximately $600,000 per year in administrative, operating and personnel costs and allow us to expand the educational county-wide opportunities with those savings. By combining the schools, we could fund full-time speech therapists, guidance counselors, music and art teachers and media specialists for the new North Central area elementary school.

Q: Beyond Phase 2 of the FEP, what is the one issue you think is most important for the board to deal with at this time, and why?

Sury: Student enrollment in the West Wateree area has pushed the student enrollment at Lugoff-Elgin High School to 1,600 students while Camden High School is approximately 900 students. The school board must plan how it will balance the student population between the two high schools to best utilize the available resources within the district.

Wood: The one issue I think that needs to be addressed by the board is to develop long term plans to handle things like population growth and technology advances. I feel we need to keep the following as goals:

Keeping Good Teachers in Kershaw County -- We reside across the county line from one of the richest districts in the state. We lose far too many great teachers to the schools in Richland and Lexington County. Those districts pay better, have better technology and offer more opportunities for professional development. Although we don’t have the tax revenue stream of those districts, we still have to compete with them to keep good teachers in our schools. Doing so will require a blend of salary adjustments and non-monetary incentives (wellness programs, child care programs, etc). We have to find ways to make Kershaw County a place where good teachers want to stay.

Expansion of High School to Life Program -- A very smart principal once told me, “You have to have plumbers too.” I believe that we need to increase the availability of non-college based curricula. My vision of the district is one that students either graduate with college credit hours or with a certificate for a real life skill (welding, cosmetology, and PC repair). We need to expand the courses offered at ATEC and dual enrollment classes. Even if the student doesn’t go to college or doesn’t work in the field that she is certified in, she will still start life ahead.

Q: What is something most residents wouldn’t know about you?

Sury: My children describe me as being very conservative with money. As such, I will work hard to make sure our tax dollars are used in the most effective way possible to provide the best education possible for the children of Kershaw County.

Wood: Most people would not know that I use to work on my Granddaddy’s tobacco farm during the summers to make money for school clothes. I worked alongside my cousins, aunts, uncle and grandparents every day until school started back. Because of it, I learned three things: 1) The value of getting paid for your hard work. 2) There is no hot like Marion, South Carolina hot. 3) Going to school was a lot easier than working in the tobacco field.

Seat No. 8

Q: (Don Copley) Why should people in your district vote to return you to your school board seat?

Don Copley: In the last four years as (the) Seat No. 8 Kershaw County school board member, and in the face of limited funding, I have seen great things happen in our school district. The current board has worked well together although we represent different perspectives and various opinions and ideas. Most of my fellow board members asked me to run again to continue to thoughtfully study and analyze issues and to work well with other board members to forge consensus. The board needs to have representations from many points of view. As a parent of four children currently in Kershaw County schools, including one special needs child, I come to the board as an advocate for parents and their children including those that may have the hardship of a special needs child. I also provide the knowledge as a medical doctor to be a resource for the many health care issues that the school district must address.

Q: (For Charles King) Why are you seeking to return to your former seat on the school board?

Charles King: As a current associate superintendent of a public school district, small business owner and former teacher/administrator in our district, I have a unique combination of skills and experience that can help move our district forward. I have a doctorate degree in educational leadership, and I possess a broad scope knowledge base in the areas of school personnel, operations, finance, and dealing with the public on a day-to-day basis. As a product of our school district, I have a passion for education and have dedicated my career to making a difference in the lives of children. I believe I have a lot to offer, and as a member of the school board, I will always have two basic questions before I make any decision: 1) Is this in the best interest of our students? 2) Is this in the best interest of our staff?

Q: (For Charles King) If elected, will you continue to serve as an associate superintendent for Chester County schools, and is there any conflict?

King: no response submitted

Q: The state legislature has not funded local school districts at statutorily required per pupil levels in some time. County council has rarely increased the amount of money it supplies to the district. Would you support an effort to give the school district taxing authority so it can raise its own funds? Why or why not?

Copley: As a fiscal conservative, I feel our tax burden is already excessive, but I favor giving the school district and board the authority within limits to raise its own funds. I think those that run for office should take the responsibility for the money they spend and the amount of money they ask from taxpayers. They should not rely on others such as county council to make those decisions and take the blame.

King: A primary focus should be the legislature devising a more appropriate mechanism for funding our schools from the “state” level, but under the current “local” funding structure, I believe that better communication and agreement on tax collection rates between the district and the county council would go a long way to improve the relationship between the two elected bodies. It would take a lot of research and ultimately legislative action to allow the district to have fiscal autonomy. I am open to exploring the option of the district having fiscal autonomy, but comprehensive due diligence would have to be exercised and I would have to be confident that my constituency would be in favor of it before I would vote for fiscal autonomy.

Q: Do you support the pending bond referendum to fund Phase 2 of the facilities equalization plan (FEP)? Why or why not?

Copley: I do support a bond issue to fund Phase 2 of the Facilities Equalization Plan. I see no other way to make all of our facilities capable of providing similar environments for academic and extracurricular opportunities. I do favor limiting the scope of the plan to allow the bonds to be paid off by a 1-penny sales tax rather than additional property tax increases.

King: The decision on Phase 2 of the facilities equalization plan will be decided on by the voters of Kershaw County through a referendum that will occur before I take office. I will surely support the decision of the voters. I am pleased that Phase 2 will have voter input because most people will recall that I was against the Phase 1 building program because the $110,000,000 bond was passed (before I was previously on the board) using the Installment Purchase Plan (IPP) and was not voted on by the people of Kershaw County. Many folks have reached out to me and expressed their continued concern regarding the process used in Phase 1 with questions such as: Have businesses and taxpayers begun to pay back the $110 million in IPP money for Phase 1? If so, how much? Is it principal or interest or both? How is this going to impact my taxes?

Q: Do you support any of the Phase 2 options regarding the North Central area? If so, which one (i.e., what combination of closing any North Central elementary schools in favor of building a new elementary school near North Central middle and high schools) do you support? Why or why not?

Copley: I support consolidations of Bethune, Baron DeKalb and Mt Pisgah elementary schools. My reason is not based on financial savings. I believe it offers the best opportunity for these children to have the same academic and extracurricular activities such as the arts, athletics, chorus, etc., as the other students in our county. I feel with express buses we can alleviate long travel time especially from Baron DeKalb Elementary. Also, many kids will have shorter travel time. Those that live outside Bethune but attend BES and live toward the property that the district already has near North Central High School and North Central Middle School may be benefited. It also helps cooperation between the high school, middle school and elementary school that serve these same elementary children. Some parents with different age children in these three schools will have the advantage of transporting all of their kids to the same area. On top of this, there is an estimated $30 million savings over the next 25 years to all the taxpayers of Kershaw County.

King: The voters in the northern part of the county who recall the Phase 1 vote on the closure of the three small schools in a board meeting in February of 2010 have asked why consolidation of these schools is being revisited when an assurance was made by district administration that once the vote was taken at that meeting, the issue would not be revisited. I do recognize the district has ongoing facility needs and if elected, I will guarantee that we exercise additional due diligence (including prioritization of facility needs and revisiting the original facility needs assessment) and communicate with the voters before we implement a Phase 2 facilities plan.

Q: Beyond Phase 2 of the FEP, what is the one issue you think is most important for the board to deal with at this time, and why?

Copley: The most important issue other than Phase 2 in the near future is funding. Given the tax burden we already face the most logical way to address this is with careful prioritization of our spending to meet the needs of our most important goal, to give our kids the tools to become successful in the work place or future educational endeavors. We must do this in the most affordable way possible.

King: As an instructional leader, I know that our district’s greatest assets are the children and employees -- every decision made must support them. As such, the most important issues I will face as a school board member are in the areas of student achievement, funding, and hiring/retaining the best people. Our teachers and building administrators are excellent and work hard each day to meet the individual needs of our students. As a board member, I will use my hands-on experience of instruction and school finance to ensure that a budget is constructed that promotes fiscal responsibility and places money where it will make the greatest impact -- in the classroom. I will protect our educators and taxpayers by being transparent, continuously monitoring the budget and by listening to the concerns of employees and taxpayers. I feel I can help our district retain, recruit, and hire the best people by promoting a positive climate where our employees feel valued, content and secure. I will do this by being accessible and communicating to all employees that we have a system where thoughts can be freely exchanged in a non-threatening and open environment. We are all working toward the same goal -- our students!

Q: What is something most residents wouldn’t know about you?

Copley: Although I have nine children, my wife tells me all the time, I act like a kid. I collect and play with trains and collect Christmas ornaments. As a parent and a child at heart if elected as your representative to School District Seat 8 you get the experience of a long time parent and kid all in one.

King: Most people know I am a dedicated family man, committed to education, and I am passionate about exercise and motorcycling. What folks may not know is that I am a voracious reader...I subscribe to over 20 magazines and I am also reading at least two or three books at any given time.

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