Four or five new school board members will emerge from a crowded field of 18 candidates between the two Richland County school districts.
Longtime board members in both Richland 1 and Richland 2 are transitioning out of their positions, making way for hopeful newcomers and a few who have run or held board seats in the past.
For the first time in 24 years, Vince Ford won’t return to his post on the Richland 1 school board. His at-large seat, along with that of Pamela Adams, opens up at a time when the district has come under fire for flubbing an application for reimbursement of federal funds for low-income students. Some parents publicly asked Superintendent Craig Witherspoon to resign over the loss of $3.1 million.
The six candidates for the two Richland 1 at-large seats are Darrell Black, a former professor and chief information officer; Otha Dillihay, a retired human resources officer for the district; Avni Gupta-Kagan, an education consultant; Donna Mack; Germon “Mama G” Miller, a nonprofit executive; and Lila Anna Sauls, director of the St. Lawrence Place transitional housing community and the Homeless No More nonprofit.
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Voters can select up to two at-large candidates. The top two vote-getters will win seats on the school board.
The candidate with the most financial support for her campaign is Gupta-Kagan, a former middle school teacher and assistant principal, who has raised more than $28,000, including a contribution from prominent Columbia lawyer and former S.C. Democratic Party chairman Dick Harpootlian as well as from a slew of lawyers, doctors and educators. No other candidate in the district has reported more than $1,600 in campaign contributions received, according to the State Ethics Commission.
There is no competition for Richland 1 single-district incumbents Cheryl Harris and Jamie Devine, who will reclaim their seats in District 2 and District 4, respectively.
A dozen hopefuls in Richland 2
In Richland 2, the departures of longtime school board members Chip Jackson and Susan Brill open up a pair of at-large seats, while their first-term colleague Monica Elkins-Johnson is seeking re-election for her at-large seat. Jackson is unopposed in November so will make the leap to Richland County Council, while Brill is running for state Senate.
The district’s most recent school board election was marked by racial tension and resulted in a shift in the racial makeup of the board. The Richland 2 Black Parents Association, which played a loud role in the 2014 campaign cycle, is hosting a candidate forum this week.
The chance for three new members to join the district’s governing board comes as district leadership is shifting from retiring superintendent Debbie Hamm to superintendent-elect Baron Davis.
The dozen candidates vying for the opportunity include Richland 2 parents, lawyers, a teacher and a youth pastor/funeral director. The candidates are set to discuss issues in a faith-based forum as well as the one sponsored by the Black Parents Association.
In addition to incumbent Elkins-Johnson, the ballot features another familiar name, Bill McCracken.
A former Richland 2 board member of 13 years, McCracken resigned in 2006 after charges of breach of trust and forgery were brought against him while he served as food services director for a Sumter school district. McCracken was never convicted of the crimes. He was replaced by the now-outgoing Brill and said he looks forward to continuing the district’s “tradition of excellence.”
Richland 2 parent Lindsay Agostini has been endorsed by school board chairman James Manning, and her $11,500 campaign account includes donations from Manning and current school board members Brill and Craig Plank. Only four other candidates have reported contributions; none of those exceeded $2,900.
Voters in Richland 2 can select up to three candidates on their ballots. The top three vote-getters will win seats on the school board.
Murphy pushing write-in candidacy in Lexington-Richland 5
There is an unofficial race underway for the only open Richland County seat on the Lexington-Richland 5 school board.
Incumbent Robert Gantt is the only candidate on the ballot after challenger Kim Murphy was removed by a court order that decided she didn’t live in Richland County as required.
Murphy, a longtime critic of school operations, is running a write-in effort in protest.
It’s unclear if ballots for her will be counted, in light of the ruling that her home on the county border in the Chapin area is in Lexington County.
Staff writer Tim Flach contributed.
Who’s on the ballots
All are non-partisan races
Richland 1, at-large (two seats up for election)
(Germon) Mama G. Miller
Lila Anna Sauls
Richland 2, at-large (three seats up for election)
Anthony AJ Bracy
Keith R Powell
James Jamie Shadd
* denotes incumbent
Richland 2 candidate forums
Tuesday, Oct. 25 at 7 p.m., hosted by the Richland 2 Black Parents Association. The event will be held at Love Fellowship Tabernacle, 224 O’Neil Court, Unit 5, Columbia.
Tuesday, Nov. 1 at 7 p.m., hosted by a collaboration of community faith-based groups. The event will be held at Rehoboth Baptist Church, 4646 Hard Scrabble Road, Columbia.