Columbia County was poised this year to potentially replace a majority of members on its school board. Two trustees are up for re-election, and one was stepping down.
No one challenged Roxanne Whitaker, so she wins Tuesday without opposition. That means no matter the outcome with the other two seats up for election, there won't be a sea-change in the way the board does business.
That's good. While we have certainly had our occasional differences with the board and central office administration, we don't for a minute buy into the gloom-and-doom crowd that sees only half-empty glasses while ignoring the continued success of the Columbia County school system.
It's a strange phenomena: In election years, the very school system that is the showcase of our community suddenly gets criticized by candidates looking for an angle. It's hard to run against success, so all too often problems are manufactured that only the candidate, naturally, can solve.
There are problems in Columbia County's schools. But they aren't radical problems demanding radical solutions; rather, they are challenges caused mostly by growing pains, societal realities and demographic differences. Such challenges require a steady hand and careful study, not bloody exploratory surgery.
That's why we recommend the re-election of District 2 Trustee Wayne Bridges, and the election of Mike Sleeper to District 5.
Wayne Bridges is the epitome of the steady hand -- so steady, in fact, that he has hurt himself with core constituents because he's been slow in supporting the elementary foreign language program.
But Bridges brings to the board a broad perspective of his responsibilities as a school board member. He knows it is not his job to strike out on his own looking for problems and ways to solve them himself, but to work within a deliberative system that by law -- by law, mind you -- is operated by a professional superintendent.
The school board is no place for a lone wolf, and Bridges is skilled at working through the fog toward a consensus in business or education. That's why he has previously been chosen to serve as the board's chairman, and that's why he was chosen as the chairman of the county's Chamber of Commerce.
Bridges is a well-respected member of the community, a father of past and current Columbia County students and the husband of a fifth-grade teacher. He knows the schools and Columbia County, and is emotionally mature enough to continue to provide steady oversight of the school system.
Mike Sleeper understands he will need such guidance if elected as a freshman member of the Board of Education. He brings business, technological and military experience to the table, and demonstrates the ability to quickly learn and adapt.
As a conservative, he understands it is not his task to bring detailed education expertise to the table. His job as a member of an elected school board is to provide financial and philosophical oversight, while staying out of the way of the professionals hired to run the schools and the classrooms.
Remember: With a budget that is nearly quadruple that of the county government, the school system needs fiscal scrutiny just as much as it needs education expertise. All the good intentions in the world don't mean a hill of beans if the county doesn't properly manage its money.
Sleeper demonstrates the serious, studious nature necessary to provide such oversight. But he also has significant community experience -- chiefly in county recreation -- and is focused on making sure our schools continue to improve so that his own child and every other student gets the best education possible.
Their opponents are both fine people, but the edge goes to Bridges and Sleeper for two reasons: both Donnie Porter and LouAnne Grove are already in the school business, Porter in Richmond County's central office, and Grove at a Richmond County high school. Such a background lends itself to micromanagement, clouding the big-picture perspective an elected member of a deliberative board should have.
Their employment with Richmond County also is troubling. No one can serve two masters: Their assurances to the contrary, neither Grove nor Porter could give undivided allegiance to Columbia County schools when their livelihood depends on a Richmond County paycheck.
No, the school systems aren't in any real competition, but it's clear Richmond County students are continuing to migrate with their families to Columbia County schools. Our neighboring system plundered its high schools with a pair of academic magnet schools that have created wonderful opportunities for the students lucky enough to get into them, but other schools have been left to wallow in mediocrity, forcing them to manipulate test scores to simulate real achievement. That's not a future we'd like to see for Columbia County.
The future we prefer is one in which School Board members understand their important roles as members of a deliberative body, rather than as single-handed fixers of a system that isn't broken.
Wayne Bridges and Mike Sleeper embrace those roles, and we recommend their election Tuesday.
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