Though it has seen quite a bit of turnover this year, the Horry County Board of Education has just two contested spots left to fill on Tuesday: District 9 and 11, both of which cover areas in northern and western Horry County.
Incumbent David Cox has shown himself to be a capable board member, who knows the issues in play and consistently votes with the conservative majority to avoid any hint of higher taxes. We have few qualms about his fitness for the office. Nevertheless, our first choice for the seat would be his Democratic challenger, Ronald Bessant.
Bessant certainly has the experience needed to succeed on the school board, having served previously for 18 years until losing his seat four years ago. Significantly, after losing his seat, he went out and found another place to serve, joining the board of trustees overseeing education within the state’s juvenile correctional facilities. Such action is evidence that this position is more than simply a line on his resume; he has a real passion for improving education in the area and the state. Bessant is particularly interested in finding ways to close the district’s achievement gap, a problem that deserves more attention. He also remains conversant and knowledgeable about the pressing issues facing our district, including a looming tax reassessment that could throw the district’s budget for a loop and the growing impact of charter schools.
Cox, on the other hand, was remarkably unconcerned about the shortfall that could hit the district’s budget after the countywide reassessment in 2014. We’ll worry about that later, he said. “I’m not worried about 2014. I’ll worry about it at the time.” He quoted Jesus’ advice to his disciples about not worrying about tomorrow because God will provide. We’d remind Cox that Jesus also praised a wise and faithful manager and the Bible has plenty to say about the wisdom of diligence and saving for the future.
While either candidate could make a success of the next four years, we prefer Bessant’s passion and foresight to Cox’s blind faith.
Petition candidates Jeffrey Garland and Levon Martin offer voters a similar choice when it comes political outlook. Both are very anti-tax and pro-business. But Martin stands out for his greater life and business experience.
Martin has noted his personnel, long-range planning and budget management skills, picked up in 35 years in the pharmaceutical industry, all of which would be a strong asset for a school board member. Looking to the future, Martin also was the first of the candidates we talked with to bring up the tax reassessment on his own – as well as the only one to mention the problem of teacher morale – and said that while he expects cuts to be made, he would fight to preserve teachers.
Garland, on the other hand, talked almost entirely in generalities, mentioning over and over that he wants to preserve a "good quality education" for local students. Asked what that specifically looks like or how we ensure that, however, he had few details ready to share. He does seem dedicated and earnest, but didn’t seem to have the same grasp of what he’d do in the role or what he brings to the table that Martin does. The one big point in Garland’s favor is that his father is the retiring school board chairman, so he would certainly have guidance close at hand when it comes to dealing with issues. But we hesitate to recommend somebody for office just because of who his daddy is.
Martin gets our nod in this race.