Mike Sleeper says the board needs strong leadership.
In the second of two scheduled debates Tuesday night, candidates for the Columbia County school board looked to distinguish themselves from their opponents before the Nov. 2 general election.
District 5 candidates LouAnne Grove and Michael Sleeper debated first at Lakeside High School to trumpet their credentials and declare their platform.
Grove touted her experience as a John S. Davidson Fine Arts School teacher. Sleeper promised to make tough decisions, even if they aren't popular.
"What better than a professional educator with a business background to serve on the board of education in Columbia County?" Grove asked. "I feel like I've been groomed for this position.''
A computer security engineer at Savannah River Site, Sleeper said the board needs stronger leadership that doesn't infringe on a teacher's ability to educate.
"I'm not here to tell teachers how to teach," he said. "I'm going to make the right decision without regard for popularity."
LouAnne Grove says experience as a teacher is valuable.
Each supported an at-large elected school board chairman, improving security in schools and working with the Columbia County Commission to better control the population growth rate and relieve overcrowded schools.
District 2 incumbent Wayne Bridges and his opponent Donnie Porter differed on the issues of assessing SAT scores and adding foreign-language programs in elementary schools.
Currently, Stevens Creek Elementary School is the only Columbia County elementary school that offers a foreign-language program.
"I fully support Stevens Creek's foreign-language program," Bridges said.
However, he said the program is too expensive to implement systemwide.
"To fully implement the program requires hiring several teachers and other logistics that are too expensive for right now," Bridges said.
Porter said that since Bridges first took office in 2000, the number of elementary schools offering foreign language has dropped from four to one.
Wayne Bridges supports current SAT assessments.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
"I would be supportive of any schools that would like to have it," he said.
Porter, a guidance coordinator for the Richmond County Board of Education, took exception to a question posed by Columbia County school board Chairwoman Roxanne Whitaker, who was in the audience, asking the candidates whether they would favor "bogus" SAT scores to improve the county's overall score.
"They are not bogus SAT results," Porter said.
He said the recent controversy regarding Richmond County's SAT scores came from Columbia County trying to explain its own 12-point drop in 2004 compared to SAT results in 2003.
"It's time for Columbia County to start comparing itself with itself," he said.
Bridges said he would leave Columbia County's current method of assessing SAT results the same.
Donnie Porter wants foreign language programs.
"I think we do the right thing in Columbia County," he said. "I would much rather see how all of our students are doing than skim off the top."
Of all the candidates, Bridges was the only one that didn't favor the popular election of an at-large school board chairman.
"This is a legislative issue, not a school one,'' he said. "The committee (established by the board to research the issue) didn't support it. The committee has been accused of being like-minded, which is absurd. I'm against it."
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