School board candidates discuss issues

By Nicole Daughhetee
For The Courier

SIX MILE — Candidates for the School District of Pickens County school board District 2 seat participated in a presidential-style debate hosted by the Pickens County Taxpayers Association last week at Six Mile Town Hall.

Moderated by Dan Winchester, school board hopefuls Kevin McKenzie, Tony Qualkinbush and Phillip Bowers answered questions from a panel of newspaper media and then from a large pool of audience members, who weathered driving rain storms to hear the candidates speak on a variety of educational issues last Tuesday.

The District 2 seat is currently held by Jimmy Gillespie, who decided not to seek reelection. The seat will be up for grabs in the Nov. 4 general election.

Jennifer Wood, the fourth candidate for the seat, told The Courier she was unable to attend the debate due to a prior obligation.

As the forum opened, each candidate was given the opportunity to introduce himself, present his educational platform and describe his qualifications for school board. Attendees were reminded that school board positions are non-partisan.

Bowers, an active member of the South Carolina State Board of Education and president of the Pickens County Republican Party, touted a conservative Christian viewpoint that emphasizes the importance of ensuring the children of Pickens County are able to read at grade level by the third grade and focusing on career and technology education.

Bowers said the current SDPC school board should have fought harder to maintain Christian prayer at meetings and said he is committed to keeping liberal, anti-Christian biases out of the district.

McKenzie, the chief information security officer and executive director of the office of information security and privacy for Clemson University, is running on a platform that highlights several issues, including teacher and support staff and promoting responsible and transparent fiscal management.

One of the next major issues McKenzie believes the school board will have to tackle is making wiggle room in an extremely tight budget for maintenance of all the new buildings constructed as part of the building plan.

Pastor of Central’s First Baptist Church, Qualkinbush is conservative in his viewpoints, but said his campaign is not about conservatism or a social agenda. His platform of concerns is founded in developing community partnerships and being innovative in thought when it comes to financial budgets.

Qualkinbush said when it comes to qualified teachers who provide a quality education to the students in Pickens County, the district is “bleeding a lack of talent out of the district and into other (geographic) areas.”

Questions, both from local media and audience members, touched on issues ranging from poverty and homelessness in Pickens County to the recent purchase of activity buses. Topics also included reducing the drop-out rate and increasing teacher salaries so Pickens County is on par with the pay scales offered within other South Carolina school districts.

During the debate, McKenzie and Qualkinbush told those in attendance their spouses work for the school district. When asked how they would approach school board votes that might result in a conflict of interest, both men assured voters they would follow proper procedural protocol and recuse themselves from such votes when necessary.

Bowers, McKenzie, Qualkinbush and Wood each have Facebook pages detailing their candidacies and Pickens County school board membership qualifications that voters can access for with more in-depth information and links to additional election issues.

For questions about the upcoming election, contact the Pickens County Registration and Election Commission at (864) 898-5949 or visit