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Shrimp 'n Grits

Political mischief marginalizes Charleston County School Board
Lee Walton

Just when the voters and public school parents were thinking that things couldn't get more contorted, confused or polarized in the upcoming Charleston County School Board Election, the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce entered the fray with its endorsed slate of candidates. Now the voters have three slates of candidates to choose from on Tuesday, November 7th.

First, there was the "A-Team", Charleston County Republican Party's handpicked slate of the party faithful. Then came the slate backed by the "Blue Ribbon Education Committee", a thinly veiled local Democratic Party counter to the Republican slate, and now the Chamber's Business Advocating Change Political Action Committee, backed by the deal-estate development complex and tourism industry, has offered its slate of candidates each expressing their allegiance to Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson and her must touted, but as yet poorly executed, "Charleston Plan for Excellence".

Why is the Chamber willing to risk the loss of dues-paying-members and its credibility by getting involved in the politicizing of a non-partisan School Board? Who's behind this very questionable and potentially damaging direct entry into the School Board election?

To muddy the waters even further, you can bet a cannon on The Battery that the Palter & Chatter will offer their endorsed slate of poltroons, hand-picked by Pericles, the weekend before the election. All this unchecked political mischief has now created a very unhealthy, divisive atmosphere of "Us and Them" among the voters, between Board Members and between Members and the Superintendent; no wonder both the State and Federal government are threatening to step in and run things at a few District schools.

To make matters worse, with the three competing, politically backed slates, any good, albeit independent, candidate trying to run a non-partisan, low-budget campaign hasn't much of a chance to attract the supporters or funding necessary to be successful. Unless they join one of the slates and chant the mantra of the collective, they can't get enough traction to get noticed much beyond their home neighborhoods. The media, particularly the Palter & Chatter, is concentrating on the dissention and infighting between polarized and politicized slates because that's what sells papers. The Palter & Chatter has become a willing accomplice in the politicizing of the School Board because it serves its purposes, both overt and covert. Be careful what you wish for - Charleston County now has a School Board incapable of the critical coalition and consensus building necessary to set much needed policy and properly oversee spending.

And just how could the illustrious non-partisan, at-large County School Board become such a battleground for political intrigue? As always, one need not look further than the Office of Mayor J. Pericles Riley to find the probing, covert fingers of political intrigue, mischief and intimidation - it's all about Control and it's all about Power! Like water seeking the lowest level, Pericles' insatiable appetite for power continuously seeks out any opportunity to control any of those who hold elected office throughout the County for his own political gain - whether it is County Council, the Town of Mt. Pleasant, the City of North Charleston or the Charleston County School Board. His covert control over several current members of the School Board is classical "politics of division and fear". Any member of the current School Board who doesn't oblige his wishes, whether expressed directly or through others, does so at their extreme peril and quickly finds themselves isolated and without support for reelection. Pericles' influence on the Charleston County School Board and over many of its former superintendents began almost three decades ago; he can't help himself - absolute power to him is an addiction.

The location of the New West Ashley High School is but one recent example of Pericles' influence and covert control over the School Board; he needed it at the westernmost edge of his imperial conquests to anchor the tens-of-thousands of new homes now being built by his loyal deal-estate development cronies. His new Gathering Place at the Intersection of the Glenn McConnell Expressway and Bees Ferry Road needed a new Mega-High School to balance the new Mega-Wal-Mart and proposed Mega-Traffic Circle, all of which would be supported by the tens-of thousands of new residents in the Mega-Sprawl Community now growing like a cancer toward Rantoles Creek.

The root causes of much of the current division and mistrust on the School Board now sits squarely on the desk of Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson. Granted, her job of trying to transform a troubled school system is formidable and it's still relatively early in her tenure, but many current Board Members have been unsuccessful in their demands for rapid, positive improvement. Unfortunately, when frequently cornered and forced to defend her lack of accomplishment thus far, Goodloe-Johnson often claims success and opines that problematic schools are in better shape than records demonstrate. Her usual answers are peppered with acronyms and references to programs, such as her "Plan for Excellence" and other "wraparound" feel-good approaches that would befuddle all but the most devoted public school administration junkie. To steal a phrase from her most recent former employer, The Corpus Christi, Texas School District, Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson is All Hat and No Cows.

While on the topic of her last employer, one must wonder why, as the Corpus Christi School District Assistant Superintendent, she was never offered the top job during their last search for a new superintendent. Maybe they never saw any cows either, just someone good at blaming everyone else, good at taking pot shots, but bad at taking responsibility. Fortunately for Goodloe-Johnson, she has Pericles to protect and defend her honor, such that it is. She has learned quickly that it's more important to please Pericles than the few Board Members not under his influence or control; he has the majority and that's enough to insure her safety and continued employment.

Charleston County's public schools are the laughing stock of our state and the nation; with the dropout rate and level of functional illiteracy in our youth, it's also a wonder that we don't qualify as a third -world country. So much for Commerce!

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