Candidates decry division in Lexington-Richland 5 schools

In a public forum, they say they’d work to end divisiveness

10/05/2012 12:00 AM

10/04/2012 11:28 PM

The six candidates for the Lexington-Richland 5 School Board say they are eager to reduce persistent conflict in oversight of Irmo-Chapin classrooms but offered no clues Thursday on how they would do that.

Their intentions were expressed at the first of three forums featuring the candidates that will be held during the next two weeks.

The push to reduce tension stems from infighting over changes in a plan to add new facilities as student growth remains flat and tax hikes are needed to pay for new schools and for routine operations.

“We’re tired of the negativity of a small, very vocal minority,” incumbent Beth Burn Watson said. “We need to end this.”

Former principal Melissa Cole, who is running against another board member, called it vital “to find a way to bridge that divide.”

Supporters and opponents should end lingering disputes over the package of improvements adopted by voters in 2008, she said.

Incumbent Jan Hammond said school leaders need to “stop barking at each other and work together, but added that .”extremists on both sides” make it difficult to accomplish that..

Changes in that improvements plan have been the source of steady disagreement, including an unsuccessful legal battle waged by board member Kim Murphy that delayed renovations at Chapin High School for two years.

Cole said she didn’t favor the package but “we’ve got to move on” as its pieces are being put in place.

All six agreed it’s important not to let the disputes affect the academic performance of schools with 16,400 students on the north side of Lake Murray that are ranked among the best in South Carolina.

In other comments:

• Incumbent board member Robert Gantt said that a five-year phase-in of personal computers in classrooms is “going about it in the right way. We’re going to take it one step at a time.”
• Challenger Jody Loveless pledged to champion efforts to expand career instruction for students. “That is my love.”
• Challenger Ed Yates promised to bring a business perspective to decisions, but said teachers would find him an advocate for their concerns.

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