File photo

Endorsements were considered from among candidates who returned City Paper’s candidate survey — all of which are available to read.

This year’s Charleston County School District Board of Trustees election comes at a critical time for local students as the current school board faces big choices with long-term impacts.

School-aged kids have long been the victims of unresponsive elected officials in Columbia who starve schools of the bare essentials. Even when Statehouse politicians declare education a priority, the best we can hope for is for them to stay out of the way.

Dysfunction and lack of vision have also taken hold among many of Charleston’s current crop of elected school leaders. When routine topics become monopolized by personal controversies, there’s little hope of tackling the big problems.

Many of Charleston County’s schools are essentially segregated. People feel left out of decision-making processes. Outside groups are turning up the pressure on the district to think differently and make progress.

Things need to change. But too often in recent years, rushed attempts at so-called innovation have meant more charter and magnet programs that invite students to flee neighborhood schools. The result? Separate, unaccountable schools have effectively become public schools in name only.

The Charleston Coalition for Kids is again pushing a slate of candidates, spending more than $200,000 on ads, according to FCC reports. Its supporters have included local mayors as well as some of South Carolina’s richest people. As a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, the Coalition is not required to detail its spending.

In 2018, the group’s four approved candidates, including three incumbents, were elected. This year, the group is supporting four new members and one incumbent, potentially foreshadowing a dramatic dynamic change.

Critics rightly cry foul over the Coalition’s secretive spending. They urge voters to look away from the group’s slate, and they have a point: Taxpayers and families deserve to know who is influencing local education and whether their real agenda is to push to outsource and privatize public education. But, we need serious board members who will drive change, and some of this year’s Coalition-endorsed candidates are the best choices in the race.

In the North area, voters should choose two new representatives. Software industry professional Charles Monteith will bring a systematic, business-minded approach to reform that will have an impact across the board on teachers and students. Monteith and his family have been involved with the district for years. His election to the board is a natural progression. 

Teach for America external affairs officer Courtney Waters has the kind of determination built from experience that Charleston’s school board needs. As a professional communicator with experience in the classroom and the corporate world, Waters said she’ll prioritize transparency. “People need to buy into change for it to be successful, so I would be intentional about soliciting input and sharing information,” she told us.

On the peninsula, voters should select Lee Bennett to fill the area’s open seat. As a graduate from downtown Charleston public schools, Bennett has seen firsthand the dramatic changes that have come to local schools. Bennett brings decades of managerial experience in the highest levels of the federal government that would make him a thoughtful board trustee.

In West Ashley, Realtor Chris Fraser should be reelected to his seat. With tall tasks ahead of a board with new members, Fraser has experience. Newcomer Francis Marion Beylotte deserves a chance to have an impact as well. Also a local grad, Beylotte will add a focus on needed mental health programs in schools where students may not otherwise be able to get treatment they need. 

Stay cool. Support City Paper.

City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.