Discussion of charter schools dominated Friday’s Democratic Women’s meeting, during which two candidates for the school board took turns lobbying for votes.
Current school board member Terence Williams along with challenger and former school administrator Pat Gates joined forces in criticizing the Republican-controlled General Assembly’s stance on education as well as the state’s charter schools model.
“In this culture there has been a direct attack on public schools,” said Williams, warning those in attendance to “be certain that the people you are voting for support public education.”
According to Williams, more than $500,000 in per pupil state funding of the Scotland County School System was lost from last year after 753 students left the system.
More than 200 of those students transferred to other districts, while more than 300 left for other schools within the region. Others left for private, charter or home schooling.
“The words ‘charter schools’ and ‘vouchers’ will dismantle the public school system as we know it,” said Gates.
Williams warned that a move toward smaller, localized charter schools would represent a step back for education in the county.
“We don’t need to go backwards in time,” Williams said.
Tempering the discourse, Scotland County Commissioner Joyce McDow, a former public schools educator and charter school administrator, pointed out that charter schools are still, in fact, “public schools.”
“There are good charter schools,” McDow said.
Williams also advocated for increased support of the lost “middle child” in the school system. While there are special curricula designed for advanced students as well as those students struggling with their coursework, Williams said that there is not enough support for the average student.
“There are some students who don’t get in trouble, get good grades, and who you wouldn’t even know were there. I am working on getting the administration to create a net for that middle child,” Williams said.
Referencing her classroom and administrative experience, Gates said that as a board member she would work to better involve caretakers in the education process.
“The number of grandparents in my office probably exceeded the number of parents,” Gates said.
Older guardians often have more difficulty with the increasingly technology dependent homework and coursework of their grandchildren, Gates said.
Williams and Gates were joined by a Rena McNeill, who spoke for school board member Darwin Williamsa Laurinburg police officer who was working Friday.
McNeill said that Darwin Williams is “dedicated to making things better for young people in the county” and that he would be honored to continue serving the school system.
Also running for the three school board seats of the Stewartsville district are former school administrator Rodney Hassler and current board member Dr. Jeff Byrd. Board Chairman Charles Brown is running unopposed for an at-large seat on the board.
At the conclusion of the meeting McDow took a moment to promote the county’s proposed quarter penny sales tax increase, which will be up for referendum this Nov. 6. McDow called the tax “the fairest tax you can have, because the more you buy the more you pay” and stressed that it was “a quarter of one cent and not 25 cents.”