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School board: Bennani won’t run again, but a candidate is ready

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

There will be at least one open seat when filing begins next week for the Georgetown County School Board. Teresa Bennani won’t run for a second term in District 6.

“I’m not sure being an elected official is the best place to make your voice heard,” Bennani said.

Filing starts Wednesday for five seats on the nine-member, non-partisan board. Seven board members are elected from single-member districts that follow the districts for County Council. Two members serve at-large, including the chairman, Jim Dumm. The at-large seats are up for re-election in 2014.

Bennani, an attorney, was elected in 2008 with 59.5 percent of the vote over Richard Kerr and Eric Heiden. She chairs the board’s early-childhood education committee and has pressed the district to do more with preschool programs.

She wants to continue to be an advocate for those issues. “I’m not sure what form that’s going to take,” she said.

From her term on the school board, Bennani said she learned that the education system is complicated. “There’s so much of it I don’t understand,” she said.

She is the most vocal member of the board and regularly questions staff about their presentations. “I’ve learned a lot,” she said. “I don’t feel my four years were wasted.”

District 6 runs from Heritage Plantation to Wachesaw Plantation along the Waccamaw River and from Pawleys Island to Litchfield Beach along the oceanfront. Kerr, a Litchfield resident, filed to run at-large in 2010 but dropped out for family reasons. He plans to run again in District 6.

“The school board has done a good job of cutting costs,” he said. “We’ve got to continue to do that.”

At the same time, “we need to continue to reward our teachers,” he added.

Kerr chairs the school improvement council at Waccamaw Intermediate School, served on the committee that updated the district’s capital improvement plan and on the district’s parent council.

He said the non-partisan format and the single-member districts make sense, but Kerr said, “you’ve got to look at your district and the county as a whole,” and from what he’s seen, “there’s room for improvement.”

Board Member Sarah Elliott of Murrells Inlet, who represents District 1, plans to file for a third term. The district runs from the Horry County line to Litchfield.

“There are some things I would like to see happen that we haven’t concluded,” she said, “such as a greater emphasis on technology and career education.”

Elliott is a retired educator who was director of career and technical education for Horry County Schools.

Elliott was first elected as a Republican in 2004. The school board adopted single-member districts and became non-partisan for the 2008 election. She won that election with 44.5 percent of the vote over two challengers.

“Even when it was partisan, there was never any mention of party when I had dealings with the school board,” Elliott said.

The party label makes more difference at the polls, she said. Like the petition candidates who expect to be on this year’s ballots, school board candidates won’t get any benefit from straight-ticket voters. “A lot of time people skip voting for school board,” Elliott said.

With non-partisan elections, there has been no organized effort by the Republicans or Democrats to recruit school board candidates. But Charlie Luquire, who follows education issues for the county GOP, said he “asked around” when he learned that Bennani would not seek re-election. “There’s been no real push to round somebody up.”

The petition candidates include those who were disqualified earlier this year because they didn’t file a statement of economic interest at the same time as their statement of candidacy. The flawed filings came under review as the result of a court case.

There will be no such problems with the school board filings. Those will be handled by the county Elections and Voter Registration office, and candidates will have to turn in both forms, said Donna Mahn, the director of the elections office.

“We’ve always done it that way,” she said.

Filing opens at noon on Wednesday and closes at noon on Aug. 15.

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Board Member Zelma Carr of Georgetown, who represents District 4, was elected last year to fill a seat that became vacant when the incumbent, Eric Allen, moved. She was unopposed.

“It’s been a learning experience,” Carr said. She plans to run for a full term.

Carr is a retired teacher who taught in church schools in Florida before moving home to Georgetown.

Sandra Johnson in District 3 and Elery Little in District 5 are also up for re-election. Little could not be reached for comment.

Johnson said she plans to seek a second term. The change to non-partisan election districts was a factor when she decided to run in 2008. “Knowing the area I live in and this end of the county made it a little easier to contact and connect with people,” she said. “Non-partisan appealed to me. Regardless of your party affiliation, you have to serve all the people.”

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