The contest for Lexington 2 School Board posts this fall will signal satisfaction or disenchantment with progress on the classroom improvements promised.
The pace of carrying out a $225 million package of renovations at all 16 schools as well as adding new facilities is a major topic in the contest.
Anxiety about some of the projects in the Cayce-West Columbia district makes the race the most-watched among political insiders of five separate school board contests on the Nov. 8 ballot in Lexington County.
In Lexington 2, four incumbents face two challengers who helped design the referendum’s plan for classroom upgrades that voters approved in 2014.
November’s vote is a verdict on the pace of renovations and property tax hikes required to pay for the projects, some community leaders say.
“People are questioning if Lexington 2 is managing it in a competent manner,” Lexington County Councilman Ned Tolar of West Columbia said. “And, generally, everybody is upset with the taxes – they didn’t realize it would increase to the extent it has.”
Some of the unhappiness stems from a year’s delay in starting work on a new elementary school near Lexington Medical Center in West Columbia.
School officials opted for a new site after concluding it would be too expensive to add the road and sewers needed. The board voted last week, deciding the school would open in fall 2018 as planned, but on a new site opposite Northside Middle, father from the hospital.
Turnover in superintendents also contributed to the uncertainty.
Venus Holland retired after overseeing development of the construction package, the positive vote at the polls and the start of the work. Her successor, Tom Siler, quit before taking charge, with Bill James then brought in to get things rolling.
Tensions about updating schools that are among the oldest in the Midlands will dissipate as many renovations get under way soon, said long-time board member Bill Bingham, one incumbent seeking re-election.
“Everybody is excited, anxious for things to get done,” he said. “It’s important to make sure it’s done right, not done quick.”
Accomplishing renovations at 16 schools plus building two new elementary schools, a career education center and fine arts auditorium will take at least five years, officials have said.
Across the county, all but two of 18 incumbents on the five school boards are seeking re-election in the at-large races.
Board members oversee management of classrooms with enrollments ranging from 2,100 in Lexington 3 to 25,000 in Lexington 1.
The retirements of Ed Harmon in Lexington 1 in the center of the county and Jondy Loveless in Lexington-Richland 5 on the north side of Lake Murray assures at least one new member on those boards.
Each race has attracted small fields of challengers. Most are long-time volunteers in school groups, not critics of operations.
Residents in Lexington 3 in the Batesburg-Leesville area apparently are happy since no one is challenging the four incumbents there.
Meanwhile, voters in Lexington 4 will decide not only on candidates but on borrowing $25.4 million for a package of improvements at Swansea High.
Tim Flach: 803-771-8483
On the ballot
The top four finishers in each district will win school board posts in nonpartisan races on the Nov. 8 ballot in Lexington County, except in Lexington-Richland 5, where two seats are at stake. Incumbents are marked with an asterisk.
Lexington 1: Mike Anderson, Anne Marie Green, Jean Haggard*, Grady Harmon, Brent Powers* and Cynthia Smith*
Lexington 2: Bill Bingham*, Beth Branham*, Glen Conwell*, Cindy Kessler*, Kevin Key and Ken Scheller
Lexington 3: Craig Caughman*, Stacey Derrick*, Leon Drafts* and Lancer Shull*
Lexington 4: Daniel Martin*, Viola McDaniel, Kathy Mixson*, Chris Pound*, Doris Simmons* and Tim Williams
Lexington-Richland 5 (Lexington portion): Michael Cates, Beth Burn Hutchison* and Barb Waldman
SOURCE: State Election Commission