Voters will decide between two Richmond County School Board employees, an accountant and a Savannah River Site computer guru to fill two Columbia County School Board seats in Tuesday's general election.
District 2 incumbent Wayne Bridges, 47, hopes to fend off Donnie Porter, 40, a guidance coordinator for Richmond County schools.
John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School teacher LouAnne Grove, 40, and SRS computer security engineer Michael Sleeper, 37, want to replace departing incumbent Lee Muns in District 5.
The District 4 seat also is up for election, but incumbent Roxanne Whitaker faces no challengers.
Bridges and Porter clash on two major points in the race - foreign language instruction in elementary schools and a countywide elected school board chairman.
Porter favors both while Bridges opposes a voter-elected chairman. Bridges also says foreign-language instruction is a non-issue in many elementary schools.
"Where is the information that has shown it to be successful, and how to do you measure that success?" Bridges asked. "I keep hearing this, but nobody will ever define the success other than the parents at one school like it."
Despite the criticism, Bridges says he favors any program that enriches students and will continue to support foreign-langue instruction at Stevens Creek Elementary School, the only Columbia County elementary school that offers the program.
However, he said many educators don't see the program as a top priority and most schools are not in favor of implementing a full-foreign language program at this time.
Meanwhile, Porter says he wants to grow the foreign-language program.
"I firmly believe my election could be a litmus test for the current school board," he said. "I am convinced that if we don't elect supporters of the elementary foreign-language program to the school it will not be around in four years."
Porter said he believes the program can be funded by establishing a zero-based budget, reallocating funds from those departments that are too heavily funded and using one-cent sales tax funds to purchase capital needs such as school buses.
On the issue of a popularly elected chairman, Bridges thinks the position would invite too much politics into the school board.
Porter supports the majority.
"The school board cannot make this happen," Bridges said. "This is a legislative issue. The legislative delegation of Columbia County has to make this happen."
Bridges said an independent committee studied the issue and recommended that the legislative delegation not make the chairman position an at-large elected position. He said he agrees with the committee's findings.
"I don't like to see this much politics brought into the school system."
Porter said voters want to elect the chairman.
"Two years ago, 85 percent of the Republican voters said they wanted it," Porter recalled. "I personally am in favor of it. I personally am going to vote for it again. And I think when 85 percent of your electorate say they want something, and it's reasonable, I think you do it. I'll work to make sure that happens."
Sleeper and Grove slightly contrast on whether population growth and high-density housing developments are overburdening schools, but they agree that improved communication could resolve the problem.
"We need to make sure that the schools are built (in such a way) that we can add on without having portables," Grove said. "We need to be adaptable to the growth of Columbia County."
Sleeper questioned if an overpopulation problem exists.
"I'm not sure (that's true)," he said. "I don't know that it is or isn't."
If it is a problem, Sleeper said, he would work with county commissioners to maintain an awareness of future development.
"If we're involved in the planning phase, then we can adequately plan for this growth and make sure we have the right amount of building space."
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