District 5 school board candidates spar

By Al Dozier

Candidates for three seats on the Lexington-Richland District 5 School Board made their pitch and answered questions at a public forum held at Irmo Middle School October 1.

Challengers sounded off about current school board actions as questions have arisen about public input, finances and construction projects.

 In Lexington County, Catherine Huddle, Rebecca Hines, April Alsup, Joseph (JJ) Lindler and incumbent Michael Cates are seeking election. Incumbent Beth Hutchison is not seeking re-election.

In Richland County incumbent Robert Gantt, who has served on the board for 20 years, faces opposition from Matt Hogan and Jane Westbury.

Challenger Rebecca Hines, former president of the Chapin Chamber of Commerce, called for a common sense approach to district policies.

“Past actions have damaged public trust,” she said.

Hines said the district should facilitate a town hall meeting in the community to provide clarity of its plans.

Hogan said more trust is needed.

“The community deserves a restored trust,” said Hogan. “I want to raise the bar. We can do better. We deserve better.”

 Jane Westbury said she would like to see increased communications within the district aimed at making employees happy and increasing morale.

She also noted the board is often divided and needs more cohesiveness.

More community inclusion was also cited by Alsup.

“I would like to see our community come together,” said Alsup, a mother of two students in the district.

Linder, a research specialist at USC, said: “I would like to see change.”

Gantt said he would like to see the district to stay on the successful path it has been on during the past few years and continue student excellence. He said the district is dealing with budget issues.

The district has come under fire for delaying a return to a 5-day school week, but Gantt said a return to normal “is what we all want.”

He said District Superintendent Christina Melton “gave us a good plan” and reentry to a normal schedule, and he supports her recommendations.

On October 19, students from third to sixth grade will return to a four-day schedule, according to Melton’s latest plan. Beginning November 9, students in seventh to 12th grades will move to the four-day schedule.

Students will also have the option to continue to use an all-virtual model, and students will have the option to change their preference once the next phase of reopening begins.

Cates, current chairman of the board, defended the district’s handling of financial matters and pointed out that annual audits show the district is doing a good job.

Huddle, chief marketing officer for the national health technology company Sevocity, questioned the ability of the current board members to work together.         

“We don’t need to end up in a split vote all the time,” she said. 

Another candidate forum will be held on October 22 at Spring Hill High School.