Richland 1 school board candidates give plans for fighting inequity, keeping teachers

·3 min read

Richland 1 school board candidates detailed their plan for reducing inequality in the district during a virtual forum Sunday.

The forum, hosted by the Richland Library, featured two of the the four candidates: Jim Manning and Robert Lominack.

Manning is a former county council member and social worker. Lominack is a former teacher and attorney who runs an education nonprofit.

Lominack promises to bring thoroughly researched topics and solutions to the board, while Manning said he would use his experience in government to get things done.

“I felt like I (will be) ready to go and experienced from day one,” Manning said.

Hamilton Jacobs and Leslie Harvel are also running, but were unable to attend because of “scheduling conflicts,” said moderator Anika Thomas, Richland Library’s communications manager.

Candidates told The State recently one of the main priorities would be addressing the district’s teacher shortage. As of Oct. 17, Richland 1 has 101 open teacher positions, according to the district’s website.

The questions in the forum focused mainly on fighting inequality in the district. Test scores in Richland 1’s schools vary greatly.

For example, 73% of Dreher High and 71% of A.C. Flora students scored a “C” or higher on their English finals; whereas only 42% of Eau Claire High and 41% of Columbia High scored the same, according to school report cards.

At Lower Richland, fewer than one in five students scored a “C” or higher on their algebra finals, while at Flora, three-quarters of students got a “C” or above on their algebra finals.

One of the reasons for the disparity is poverty. At A.C. Flora, the district’s least-impoverished high school, 48% of students are in poverty. At Eau Claire 92% of students are impoverished; at Lower Richland 79% are impoverished and at Columbia High 89% are impoverished, according to S.C. Department of Education data.

Lominack said he would seek to fight inequality by removing barriers to underpriviledged children getting into choice programs, and boosting funding to pay for social workers and mental health workers in schools.

“The pandemic has not caused any inequities that didn’t exist already,” Lominack said. “It has exacerbated (them), it has shone a greater light on them.”

Those issues include lack of broadband access, lack of access to resources such as mental health professionals and an income disparity that makes it harder for low-income students to learn.

“I think we’ve got a long way to go, even once this pandemic is in our rear view mirror,” Lominack said.

Manning said he would seek outside sources to boost teacher pay and use his experience in government to whip votes necessary for consensus building.

“One board member cannot do anything,” Manning said. “Without me having three more votes to have a majority to make something change, than nothing changes.”

Another of Manning’s ideas would be fighting for Richland 1’s fiscal autonomy, which means the district could approve its own millage rates for property taxes and budget without approval from Richland County Council.

The special election will be Oct. 26, according to scvotes.org. The winner will serve until 2022, which is the remainder of Yolanda Anderson’s term. Anderson resigned in August after saying she moved outside the district.

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