Charleston County voters elected five women to sit on the Charleston County School District Board of Trustees, unseating three incumbents in a race that saw significant investment, but limited success, from outside education interests.
With 100% of precincts reporting, Kristen French and Courtney Waters were elected to represent the North area, Lauren Herterich was elected downtown and Erica Cokley and Helen Frazier were elected to represent the sea islands and areas west of the Ashley River.
With five newcomers, the nine-member board will see a massive shake up as the state’s second-largest school district continues to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and major policy initiatives.
The election follows a year of debate over significant, controversial changes that aim to create more diverse and equitable schools for Charleston students.
The race was shadowed by talks of outside money and discussions about transparency, fueled, in part, by the Charleston Coalition for Kids. The nonprofit group was said to have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on advertising in the weeks leading up to the election in support of a slate of five candidates. As a 501(c)4 nonprofit, the group does not have to disclose individual donors. Herterich and Waters were the only Coalition-backed candidates to be elected. Two of the North Charleston incumbent trustees who suffered defeats, Kevin Hollinshead and Chris Collins, were the subjects of Coalition TV and radio ads.
French and Waters edged out incumbents Collins and Hollinshead in that contest.
In the seven-candidate field west of the Ashley, Cokley drew strong support and Frazier eked out second, just 163 votes more than incumbent Chris Fraser.
“I keep telling people, it doesn’t take a genius to recognize that education and poverty and crime go hand in hand,” Cokley said in a tearful Facebook video. “I did nothing other than what we all should have been doing, what we are all going to be doing.”
Downtown, where four candidates were running for an open seat, Lauren Herterich will take over the spot vacated by Trustee Todd Garrett, earning 35% of the vote.
A recount is expected due to the close race between Frazier and Fraser, and official results will be certified by the county election board Friday.