Democrats in runoff for SC schools superintendent debate

COLUMBIA — The two Dem­o­crats in a runoff for their party’s nomination to lead South Carolina’s schools debated Thursday without ever talking about one candidate’s idea to legalize and tax marijuana to pay for schools.


Former South Carolina Education Association President Sheila Gallagher has suggested selling marijuana in South Carolina could raise hundreds of millions of dollars for schools. She took 36 percent of the vote to finish first in the primary earlier this month.

Gallagher’s opponent, South Carolina State University dean of graduate studies Tom Thompson, who received 26 percent of the vote, has said it is absurd to link buying marijuana to quality education. But the word “marijuana” was not said once by the candidates or the questioners at Thursday’s debate.

Instead, the candidates agreed on nearly everything, from raising teacher’s pay to getting more money to rural school districts to maintaining the state superintendent of education as an elected position.

One topic that did split the candidates was a proposal from Gallagher that parent-teacher meetings carry the same weight as a jury summons, requiring businesses to let parents have time off to visit schools and requiring the parents to show up.

“Too many times are parents are still a little hesitant to come to the school and this might provide more encouragement for them to come in and meet with the teacher,” Gallagher said.

Thompson said he couldn’t support that proposal because it makes the parents and the schools adversaries.

“Sometimes you have to go to the parents’ place. Meet them on their ground,” Thompson said.

Thompson thinks the best thing South Carolina schools could do for their students is pay more attention to getting children ready for careers. He said many children think they can only make a good living by becoming famous.

“There are lots of high-paying jobs available behind the scenes,” Thompson said

Gallagher said schools are hurting students by becoming too dependent on technology and keeping them from socializing with their fellow students, teachers and other adults.

There is just too much with the computer and not enough working with the people themselves,” Gallagher said.

Gallagher said one of her first priorities if elected would be to make sure South Carolina doesn’t entirely abandon the Common Core standards, which outline skills students in kindergarten through 12th grade should learn to be ready for college and careers. She said they just need a few adjustments.

“The superintendent takes over in January, so we need to work through the spring to get the standards out that we want,” Gallagher said.

Thompson said his first priority will be to repair relationships with local school districts that he said have suffered under Superintendent Mick Zais.

“Those relationships have been lost. We are not going to be a strong public education system in this state unless we work together,” he said.