Beaufort County school board election guide
On Tuesday, voters will have the opportunity to reshape the Beaufort County Board of Education — a board that has been ridiculed for its infighting and dysfunction in recent years.
Seven of the 11 seats are up for grabs and four of those current board members are running for re-election, including District 2’s David Striebinger, District 3’s Cynthia Gregory-Smalls, District 4’s Joseph Dunkle and District 7’s Evva Anderson.
KEY ISSUES Addressing overcrowding
As the Bluffton population continues to expand exponentially, addressing overcrowded schools is going to be a difficult but important task for school board members.
District staff recently recommended rezoning about 750 students starting next year and adding 54 mobiles classrooms at four Bluffton schools over the next three years.
Although this plan is set to be approved before the new board members begin their terms, they will need to find a long-term solution for the overcrowding at Bluffton schools.
Holding a referendum
In March 2017, Beaufort County residents voted against a referendum for the second time in 18 months, denying the school district millions of dollars, much of which was to be used to build and expand existing schools in Bluffton.
The scale of April’s rejection of the $ 76 million bond referendum — 72 percent against and 28 percent in favor — was unprecedented.
Now, in a crunch for funding to alleviate school overcrowding in Bluffton, district officials have said that another referendum could be placed on the ballot as early as November 2019.
Choosing a new superintendent
Superintendent Jeff Moss left the district at the end of July, a little more than two months after he handed in his resignation to the school board.
Interim superintendent Herb Berg was hired in August to fill Moss’ place for one year. He has stated from the beginning that he is not interested in extending his term but is focused on helping the school board find the best candidate for the superintendent position.
The school board chose a search committee that will be in charge of finding candidates last month. The board plans to identify finalists by late March and announce its choice for a permanent superintendent by mid-April 2019, according to its plan.
WHAT’S AT STAKE
A deeply divided board Since seven of the 11 Beaufort
County Board of Education seats are up for election on Nov. 6, the outcome could bring a lot of new faces to the board and help to alleviate its deep divides.
In the wake of former superintendent Jeff Moss’ 2015 ethics violations, board members split into two pretty clear factions with six board members who generally backed Moss and five who tended to question him and his motives regularly.
Five of the board’s six-person majority seats are up for grabs and two of those board members are up for re-election — District 3’s Cynthia Gregory-Smalls and District 7’s Evva Anderson.
Two of the board’s five-person minority seats are open and both board members are running for re-election — District 2’s David Striebinger and District 4’s Joseph Dunkle.
Electing new board leadership
After the new board members are inducted in January, new officers will also be chosen.
Earl Campbell, the longestserving member on the board, is currently the chairman. Bill Payne is secretary and Geri Kinton serves as vice-chair. Both Kinton and Payne decided not to run for re-election.
All three board members are part of the board’s majoritybloc, which were vocal supporters of former superintendent Jeff Moss.
In recent years, members of the minority-bloc have accused the officers and other majority board members of behind-thescenes machinations and withholding information from the full board.
The appointment of new officers will give the board a fresh start and could help to relieve tension among board members.
Gaining public trust
Following former superintendent Jeff Moss’ 2015 ethics violations, trust in Moss, the board and the district as a whole began to falter.
April’s referendum, which voters rejected by historical margins, was seen to some as a rebuke of the district’s leadership, including dysfunction on the school board and an ongoing FBI investigation involving Moss and related to the construction of two Bluffton schools.
The new board will have the task of working to rebuild trust among the community if they hope to get the political buy-in from residents to get another referendum passed.
More rezoning if building doesn’t occur
The district’s current rezoning plan covers the next three years. It calls for adding mobiles and moving about 750 students in order to balance overcrowding in Bluffton schools.
Yet the plan relies on future building. If the board can’t figure out a way to build additions on schools like River Ridge Academy and May River High School or a new school entirely, the district could be forced to rezone again in the future — an idea that most Bluffton parents and children have continuously rejected.
THE CANDIDATES District 2
David Striebinger: Striebinger, a retired businessman, was elected to the school board in October 2016. During his time on the board, he has sided with the board’s five-member minority on most issues and has pushed for more transparency and fiscal responsibility from the board and district as a whole.
Terry Thomas: Thomas, another retired businessman, has served as a substitute teacher in Beaufort County schools and an assistant football coach at Beaufort High School. He previously ran for the school board in 2014, but lost to the board’s former chair Bill Evans.
District 3 Cynthia Gregory-Smalls:
Smalls, a retired educator who spent 32 years in the Beaufort County School District, was installed onto the board in a special election last April. During her time on the board, she has aligned with the board’s majority members.
William Smith: Smith, owner of a private security company, was born and raised on St. Helena Island. In March 2017, Smith ran against Gregory-Smalls in the special election for school board, but he lost by only three votes.
Buryl Sumpter: Sumpter worked as a mortician who has managed funeral homes in metro Atlanta and Greensboro, North Carolina, also grew up on St. Helena Island. In March 2017, Sumpter ran against Smith and Gregory-Smalls and came in third.
Natasha Robinson: Robinson, a native Gullah-Geechee woman, is a performing artist who has danced and recited poetry at various Lowcountry festivals and schools within the Beaufort County School District. Robinson graduated Beaufort High School in 1994.
Joey Dunkle: Dunkle, a senior firefighter for the Savannah River Site, was elected to the school board in 2014. During his four-year term, he has pushed the board to stick to its rules and policies and has voted with the board’s minority bloc more than he has with majority members.
Tricia Fidrych: Fidrych spent the past 17 years teaching in the Beaufort County School District before stepping out of the classroom at the end of last school year. Her two children both attended Beaufort High School.
Stew Butler: Butler, founder the Beaufort car dealership Butler Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram, spent seven years teaching in Pennsylvania, Maryland and South Carolina but was forced to start driving trucks on the side because of his low salary.
Sarah Stuchell: Stuchell, a marriage and family therapist, owns a private practice with offices on Hilton Head Island and in Beaufort. She previously worked with former superintendent Jeff Moss to add mental health counselors to nine schools in the district.
Richard Geier: Geier, a retired Army officer, has lived in the district for a decade and has two grandsons attending schools in the district.
Ray Johnson: Johnson spent 43 years as a military officer, both on active duty and with the National Guard. He also worked for Maryland’s state police and for the Federal Aviation Administration.
Rachel Wisnefski: Wisneski grew up on Hilton Head Island and graduated from Hilton Head Island High School. She has worked as an educator and education consultant for the past 10 years.
Chris Davey: Davey, the parts and service manager at Vaden of Beaufort, served on the 2013 Bluffton Community Commit- tee, which was tasked with examining short-term options to manage crowding in Bluffton schools. His children attended schools within the district.
Evva Anderson: Anderson, a Bluffton area realtor, has served on the school board since 2013. During her time on the board, she most closely aligned with the majority-bloc that tended to support former superintendent Jeff Moss.
John Eddy: Eddy, a retired educator, spent about 15 years as a teacher and principal at schools in Ohio and Colorado before working as a salesman and director at various education-related companies.
Cathy Robine: Robine, another retired educator, spent 34 years as a teacher, principal and school administrator in North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
Paul Roth: Roth served on the Beaufort County school board from 2013 to 2016. While on the board, he was reprimanded for referring to a fellow board member as a “hot chick” and making other disparaging comments about his peers.
Peter Kristian: Kristian has been the general manager of Hilton Head Plantation, the second largest gated community on the island, since 2000. Before managing communities, Kristian spent about 11 years teaching in New York and Virginia.
Melvin Campbell: Campbell, a retired teacher of 39 years, taught math at Hilton Head Island High School for 23 years and was named the high school’s Teacher of the Year in 1999. He is a native islander and his ancestors have lived on Hilton Head Island since the Civil War era.
The Beaufort County Board of Education has seven seats up for grabs in the midterm elections. On Tuesday, voters will have the opportunity to reshape the Beaufort County Board of Education— a board that has been ridiculed for its infighting and dysfunction in recent years.