Upcoming elections spell change for Beaufort County school board

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Upcoming elections spell change for Beaufort County school board

By RACHEL HEATON
rheaton@islandpacket.com
Published Saturday, June 23, 2012   |  986 Words  |  

The Beaufort County school board will look much different after this year's elections.

Because new districts were created, 10 of the 11 incumbents would have faced election -- but nearly half of those 10 say they aren't running.

And four districts have no incumbents living in them, leaving those races wide open.

Board members have mixed feelings about the changes. Several still say the effect of redistricting on the board seems unfair, since County Council incumbents were better protected.

Only two council members, Herbert Glaze and Gerald Dawson, had to face each other in an election. Dawson beat Glaze in a Democratic primary for that seat earlier this month.

"It looked to me like there wasn't any thought or care for school board members," school board member Herbert Burnes said.

Board member Laura Bush said she hopes new board members run for the right reasons.

"I'm fine with it as long as those who come on keep an open mind and have no preconceived ideas until they sit in the seat," she said.

Meanwhile, candidates for school board are gathering signatures. They must have signatures from 2.5 percent of registered voters in their districts by noon July 16 to appear on the ballot.

INCUMBENTS NOT RUNNING

At least four incumbents say they won't be running.

George Wilson and Julie Bell said they're not running again because of family reasons.

Wilson, who was drawn into District 5, which includes parts of Okatie and Burton, plans to move closer to his grandchildren. Board member Ronald Speaks is also in District 5; attempts to reach him were unsuccessful.

Bell, who represents part of Hilton Head Island, was drawn into a new district. Both she and Wayne Carbiener live in the new District 11.

Bell's term was originally set to expire in 2014, but with the change in districts, she would have to run this year for another full four-year term. She said she couldn't commit to being on the board until 2016 because she also is contemplating a move closer to grandchildren.

Carbiener has also said he won't run. Poor health has prompted him to attend board meetings by phone since October.

Burnes, who has been drawn into a district with Earl Campbell, won't run either.

Burnes said Campbell has more experience on the board. Campbell was first elected in 1990; Burnes was elected in 2008.

"I want what's best for the school district and for the children," Burnes said. "(Campbell) may be able to do a better job than I have because I'm new at it."

Burnes also said he lost a large part of his voting base under redistricting. Burnes lives in the new District 1, which includes Sheldon, Seabrook, Lobeco and some of Burton. It doesn't include parts of Burton and Shell Point that Burnes currently represents.

"That's the area I was born and raised in," Burnes said. "All my voters are right in that area. ... Even if I was contemplating running, I would have lost a big base."

Attempts to reach Campbell were unsuccessful.

Steven Morello was also drawn into a new district on Hilton Head and would face election this year. He was elected in 2010. Attempts to reach Morello were unsuccessful.

RUNNING AGAINST EACH OTHER

Board member Michael Rivers and school board Chairman Fred Washington Jr. now live in District 3.

They plan to run for the seat, which includes parts of Beaufort, Lady's Island and St. Helena Island.

Washington has never represented St. Helena residents, but says he's prepared.

"I'd like to think that I was always representing all people anyway," he said.

Rivers, who only recently decided to run again, said he's worried about the effect on voters.

"I think the most pressing question for some of us is the disenfranchisement of voters who voted for us in 2010 thinking it would be a four-year term," he said.

EMPTY DISTRICTS

Four of the new districts have no incumbents living in them.

A few school board members say they've encouraged some residents in those districts to run.

Bush, who is seeking reelection, said she's talked to residents in areas that were drawn out of her district, particularly along Buck Island Road and Buckwalter Parkway in Bluffton.

"I've let people know there's a new seat," she said. "Hopefully, they'll be interested in putting their hats in the ring."

Beaufort County Board of Elections Chairman Scott Marshall said he's received phone calls from prospective candidates, but it won't be clear who has filed for which races until July 16, when the candidates' petitions are due.

If no one files, Marshall said, people could mount write-in campaigns. That's how Bell was elected in 2010.

But Washington said he's confident candidates will emerge.

"I'm certain there will be candidates for the positions," he said. "I think there's a heightened interest in the school board right now."

Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.

Related content:

School board members lose out in county redistricting plan; Aug. 24, 2011

Anger over school board redistricting erupts in email battle; Aug. 26, 2011

School board wants to draw its own districts; Sept. 12, 2011

School board faces many obstacles if it created its own districts; Sept. 13, 2011