Originally created 10/30/04

Data cards rile some candidates



AIKEN - One of two Aiken County School Board incumbents who floated campaign circulars that contain verbatim data from a district-produced information card stapled to teacher paychecks Oct. 19 said he did so only after the cards were printed and distributed.

District 9 incumbent Jack Hunter said he lifted information about test scores, property taxes and spending for a second campaign flier after the district printed the 25,000 cards.

"Then it's public record and there is nothing wrong with that," Mr. Hunter said.

Both he and board Chairman John Bradley, who also has put out a flier with the data, deny being provided information from Tammy Newman, the school district spokeswoman who prepared the card.

Ms. Newman did not return calls to her office seeking comment Thursday and Friday.

Schools Superintendent Dr. Linda Eldridge, who authorized stapling the card to the pay stubs of teachers and other employees, refused to disclose how much it cost the district to print the cards, which also were distributed to schools and business throughout Aiken County.

Dr. Eldridge also did not return a reporter's phone calls to her office seeking comment.

However, three Aiken County school board challengers claim Dr. Eldridge's circular is timed to influence Tuesday's election and distorts the truth.

"By putting it in with the employees checks was almost like saying 'Here's what we've accomplished and you better know how to vote,'" said challenger Frances Bell, who is running against school board member John Brown for the District 1 seat. "And they are supposedly factual. They're trying to show that everything is going good at the schools."

Printed in green ink on thick card stock, the cards highlight the achievements of the past school year and were stapled to teachers' pay stubs sent out two weeks before Tuesday's election.

This is the first time in two years that the cards have been printed - since 2002, the information has been posted on the district's Web site.

Dan Plung, the challenger for Mr. Hunter's District 9 seat, said the information sheet addresses issues such as property tax increases and the number of administrators working for the district - topics that have been heatedly debated during the last two months of the campaign.

Mr. Plung said the timing of the card was inappropriate.

"I think it represents, much more specifically, the elements that certain candidates are using as their primary focus of their candidacy," he said.

Mr. Plung also said some of the facts on the sheet are a snapshot that don't give an accurate picture of how the district is faring in the long run. He said there is no relation between what the school board has done and higher scores on the SAT or the Palmetto Achievement Challenge Test.

"It says that the SAT scores have risen and are now above the state average," Mr. Plung said. "What it doesn't say is that our SAT scores are lower today than they were two years ago."

Reach Karen Ethridge at (803) 648-1395, ext. 109 or karen.ethridge@augustachronicle.com.

District 1 John Brown (I) Frances Bell

District 4 Nick Flouras (I) (Unopposed)

District 8 Chairman John Bradley (I) Diane Giddings

District 9 Jack Hunter (I) Dan Plung