Candidates for the Columbia County School Board faced off Tuesday night in the second of two scheduled debates prior to the Nov. 2 general election.
The opponents for the District 2 and District 5 seats tackled questions from a series of panelists, each other and the roughly 40-member audience.
District 5 candidates LouAnne Grove and Michael Sleeper took the stage first at Lakeside High School to tout their credentials and state their platforms.
Mrs. Grove leaned on her experience as a John C. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School teacher while Mr. Sleeper promised to make the tough, possibly unpopular, decisions.
"What better than a professional educator with a business background to serve on the board of education in Columbia County?" Mrs. Grove asked. "I feel like I've been groomed for this position."
Mr. Sleeper, a computer security engineer at Savannah River Site, said the board needs stronger leadership without interfering with instruction.
"I'm not here to tell teachers how to teach," he said. "I'm going to make the right decision without regard for popularity."
Each supported an at-large elected school board chairman, improving security in schools and working with the Columbia County Commission to better control the population growth rate and relieve overcrowded schools.
District 2 incumbent Wayne Bridges and his opponent Donnie Porter locked horns on issues such as SAT scores and the foreign-language program in elementary schools.
Currently, Stevens Creek Elementary is the only Columbia County elementary school that offers a foreign-language program.
"I fully support Stevens Creek's foreign-language program" Mr. Bridges said.
However, he said, the program is too expensive to implement systemwide.
"To fully implement the program requires hiring several teachers and other logistics that are too expensive for right now," Mr. Bridges said.
Mr. Porter said that since Mr. Bridges first took office in 2000, the number of elementary schools offering foreign language programs has dropped from four to one.
"I would be supportive of any schools that would like to have it," he said.
Mr. Porter, a guidance coordinator for the Richmond County Board of Education, took exception to a question posed by Columbia County School Board Chairwoman Roxanne Whitaker, who was in the audience, asking the candidates if they would favor "bogus" SAT scores to improve the county's image.
"They are not bogus SAT results," Mr. Porter said.
He said the recent controversy regarding Richmond County's SAT scores came from Columbia County trying to explain its own 12-point drop in 2004 compared with SAT results in 2003.
"It's time for Columbia County to start comparing itself with itself," he said.
Mr. Bridges said he would leave the current method of assessing SAT results as is.
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District 2 candidates:
"I support a county-wide elected chairman. I will vote for it. You should give the people what they want if it is reasonable."
- Donnie Porter
"This is a legislative issue, not a school one. The committee (established by the board to research the issue) didn't support it. The committee has been accused of being like-minded, which is absurd. I'm against it."
- Wayne Bridges
District 5 candidates:
"I will vote yes. I believe every person out there is better served by having two board members representing their interest."- Michael Sleeper
"I have conservative values, and I feel like if that's what the people want then that's what they should have. We live in a democracy where the majority rules. I will vote for it."- LouAnne Grove
What they said
Candidates were asked whether they would vote for or against having an at-large elected school board chairman. The same question will be posed to Columbia County voters Nov. 2 as a nonbinding referendum.