Career educator and Columbia Democrat Tom Thompson announced Tuesday he's entering the state superintendent of education race.
A political newcomer, Thompson, 60, said his educational experience and ability to build coalitions separates him from the pack, which includes one Democrat, one Libertarian and five Republicans.
"The difference, ladies and gentlemen, is I know the system inside and out," said Thompson in a Tuesday press conference, referring to his career that includes time as a math teacher in an inner-city community in Chicago, being the first black principal at Winnsboro High School in Fairfield County and serving as a professor and dean at S.C. State University. He now chairs a leadership institute at S.C. State where he trains principals and superintendents.
Thompson's platform includes changing the state Constitution to guarantee every child a high-quality education, ensuring every student earns a high-school diploma, increasing the state's per-student cost and paying teachers more.
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The goals are lofty considering state lawmakers are grappling now with a half-billion-dollar shortage as they attempt to build a budget.
K-12 education, which makes up about 38 percent of the state budget, is likely to get hit with furlough days for teachers and administrators, the elimination of all testing that's not federally required and new restrictions to the National Board Certification program, which pays qualified teachers more money.
Thompson said he backs a plan introduced by current Superintendent Jim Rex to use proceeds from an increase in the state's cigarette tax to benefit public education as well as health care.
Thompson, a father of two grown children, said he also would like to see less class time spent on testing.
"I think we need to tone down the emphasis on high-stakes testing," Thompson said.
In the June primary, Thompson faces Democrat Frank Holleman, a Greenville attorney. Also running are Columbia Libertarian Tim Moultrie, a Dreher High School teacher; and five Republicans - Gary Burgess, former superintendent of Anderson 4; Elizabeth Moffly, a Mount Pleasant small-business owner; Brent Nelsen, a Furman professor; Kelly Payne, a Dutch Fork High School teacher; and Mick Zais, Newberry College president.
A former dean of S.C. State University is running for superintendent of education.
Party affiliation: Democrat
Family: Divorced father of two grown children, two grandchildren
Education: Doctorate, master's and bachelor's degrees from University of Illinois
Political experience: None
Professional experience: Taught math in a Chicago public school; served as a principal in Fairfield County public schools; professor and dean at S.C. State University; currently coordinates a leadership institute at S.C. State where principals and superintendents are trained to be more effective
Hometown: Chicago, but has lived in South Carolina since 1982. He currently resides in Forest Acres.