Two Columbia County School Board trustees retained their seats for another term in Tuesday’s primary election.
Mike Sleeper earned a fourth term as the District 3 representative with 2,119 votes, 60.3 percent of the votes in his race against Staten Heard.
“I really am thankful and grateful that the voters have seen fit to put me back in office for another term and they trust me to do what they think is right for the school system,” Sleeper said.
Newcomer Heard, a retired manufacturing logistics specialist, garnered 1,383 votes, 39.63 percent.
“I think he’s the incumbent,” Heard said. “Things have been going pretty well and maybe people aren’t looking for a change at this point.”
Heard said a second run for the seat is quite possible.
“I still believe that I have something to contribute,” he said. “I feel I do have a good plan. I’m not giving up.”
Incumbent Kristi Baker of District 2 ran unopposed and earned 2,561 votes.
Sleeper, a computer security specialist for Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, has served on the board for nearly 10 years and is excited to take on another four-year term.
“I’m relieved it’s over, not just for me, but for the county,” Sleeper said after the results were final for his and other county elections. “I am relieved for the direction our county is going to head in. There’s a great partnership between the schools and the county and I know that is going to continue and we all have the best interests of the county in mind.”
Sleeper said the biggest challenge the school system faces isn’t dwindling state funding, which has dropped by more than $100 million over the last several years. The biggest obstacle is the tremendous growth of the system in recent years.
“We’ve had consistent growth every year, at least 500 students, enough to fill a small school,” Sleeper said, adding that the growth is expected to continue. He said he’d love to see all new students in brick and mortar school building, but some portables will likely be used while funding solutions catch up with needs.
But the school board has developed a building plan for the next decade to deal with swelling enrollments.
“We’re planning for it and I think we’ve got a good handle on it,” Sleeper said.
Sleeper also is a proponent of technology in the schools.
“We’re looking down the road to see what changes are on the horizon and how we can take advantage of that,” Sleeper said.
It’s those kinds of issues that make his nearly 10 years of experience helpful, planning for future needs. The position comes with a huge learning curve and is not one a newcomer can hit the ground running. Sleeper said it took a couple of years for him to get comfortable with the issues.
One thing Sleeper said he’s quite happy about is being able to include a one-time pay increase for teachers and employees in the 2014-15 budget.
The teachers and staff have put their all into the job despite not earning what they should.
“We’re expecting more of them, putting more kids in their classrooms and they are still delivering,” Sleeper said. “We’re bringing that back down now. I hope they realize that we do value them.
“We’ve been blessed, we really have that our teachers have stepped up to the plate, that our employees stepped up to the plate even though were not paying them what they need to be paid.”