School board hopefuls discuss issues at forum

By Ben Robinson, Courier Staff

LIBERTY — Two of the four candidates vying for the School Board’s Liberty-area District 3 seat addressed the public last Thursday at the monthly meeting of the Pickens County Republican Party.

The seat was formerly held by Ben Trotter, who resigned earlier this year.

The two candidates in attendance were former School District of Pickens County building program director Bob Folkman and longtime district employee Bonita Thomas Holland.

Two other candidates, local businessman Roy Costner and Tri-County Technical College Easley campus director Brian Swords, chose not to be a part of the debate.

Holland, who worked in various departments in the school district before retiring after more than 30 years of service, said that the district should move slowly in addressing maintenance issues from the old facilities that keep arising.

“There’s not anything we can do about it now,” Thomas said.

Folkman said he had advised the district to put money aside for future maintenance needs, but that move was rejected by the administration.

“We need to set a plan of looking at the current budget,” Folkman said, “being more frugal about how we utilize that money, and take a share of it and put it away for future needs.”

Another issue the two candidates addressed was school board procedure and governance, problems that have recently led to widespread controversy after an AdvancED accreditation report highlighted issues among school board members.

Folkman said he prefers working with the functioning board in Dorchester County, where he now works.

“They adhere to the rules and regulations,” Folkman said. “They discuss things in a civil manner, they don’t have personal agendas, there’s no politics involved and they get things done. I look at it as an asset for me to come from experience like that.”

Holland said she would strive to be more transparent with the community.

“If they have a question, then we need to answer it,” Holland said. “If you are a representative of the district, you need to vote ‘yea’ or ‘nay,’ not just back off.”

The candidates weighed in on the controversy over building a second middle school in the Easley area.

Holland was for it.

“I think we need a second school in Easley,” Holland said. “Gettys is too big. Kids are going to be on top of each other.”

Folkman was in charge of the building program during the saga of the Gettys facility. He said he was challenged in 2010 by then-superintendent Dr. Henry Hunt to find a way to put two middle schools in Easley. His solution was for two middle schools, each with 750 students, at a cost of $9 million. But Easley residents said they wanted to save the portion of the high school that was built in 1939, so he adjusted the budget to renovate the former Easley High School campus.

“It’s the largest campus square footage-wise in the district,” Folkman said.

But as the projects moved forward, the people objected to having what was perceived as a “have” and a “have-not” campus, so the former Gettys building had to be on par with the former Easley High School.  The district could not afford to adopt such a plan.

“I am not in favor of another middle school in Easley,” Folkman said. “We cannot afford it. The community had their opportunity to have two middle schools, and they rejected it. “

Now a charter school is trying to purchase the former Gettys property.

“If the charter school gives Easley its second middle school, then so be it,” Folkman said. “I represent Liberty, not Easley. I would vote ‘No’ every time for a second middle school funded through the School District of Pickens County.”

The candidates were also asked about superintendent Dr. Kelly Pew’s application for a similar position in Rock Hill and how they would approach finding a replacement if Pew got another job.

“The main criteria would be to look at the resume and see if they have stayed in one place for a length of time,” Holland said. “Not just going from district to district for more money.”

Folkman said he could not blame Pew for seeking a new position.

“Dr. Pew is a superintendent, and she’s paid a salary,” Folkman said “And with the situation she’s in right now with the board and funding issues, I wouldn’t blame her if she went somewhere else.”

As far as a replacement, Folkman said “I would vote for the best candidate for the long-term interest of the School District of Pickens County.”