Enticed by trying times, nine people are running for a chance to help govern Rock Hill schools.
The competition for three open seats on the seven-member school board is the most crowded of York County's four school board races. The elections, scheduled for Nov. 2, are nonpartisan. The job pays $600 a month.
Both incumbents seeking re-election say the district's financial situation is too precarious to change leadership now. Challengers counter that tough times call for fresh ideas from new leaders.
"A new perspective on problems would be nice," said Wanda Carr, a Rock Hill airport administrator running for Jim Vining's at-large seat on the board. "Sometimes you have to bring fresh eyes to old problems."
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Carr said she wants to be a voice on the board for parents.
Vining also faces Ann Morrison, a retired flight attendant who wants more programs targeting the achievement gaps between student groups.
"Any time your conscience tells you to do something, it's the right time," she said. "What better time to want to do something to help than when we're going through this economic crisis."
Vining, the school board's most vocal critic of the district leadership, stands by the board's decisions on the budget: "The question I'd ask the new guys is, 'How would you have voted differently?'"
Vining, who has pushed for more transparency and stricter planning, said he wouldn't change his approach.
"I make them better at their job," he said. "I ask hard questions."
The race for seat four, encompassing a sliver in the middle of the district that cuts a jagged line from the edge of downtown to the north, pits incumbent Mikki Rentschler against Jane Sharp, a former teacher and principal at Finley Road and Belleview elementary schools.
"Schools are really in crisis," Sharp said. "Education is too important. It seems to be ignored, abused or starved to death lately. There's tremendous interest in improving our schools. I want to be a part of the group that's working to do that."
Rentschler, finance director at York County's Convention & Visitor's Bureau, said the school board has handled budget cuts adeptly.
"With the financial crisis going on, we never lost the focus that's it's about teaching and learning," she said. "We started a financial process two years ago. I'm not willing to move aside. I don't want us to lose focus."
Four people - Jay Johnson, Ginny Moe, Jeff Nicholson and David Thompson - are running for Jason Silverman's seat, which includes the northwestern portion of the district from Mobley Store Road to just above Mount Gallant Road.
Silverman, a Winthrop University history professor, is stepping down to spend more time writing books and developing college courses. He has said that the political climate in South Carolina weighed heavily on his decision. That, along with successive cuts in state money for education has been "demoralizing," he said.
"Instead of having lofty discussions about what children's education should be like, we're in lifeboat mode," he said earlier this year. "I'm not optimistic anymore."
The winners of these races will help set policy for York County's largest school district during one of its most trying times.
To manage state budget cuts in the past two years, the Rock Hill school board has voted to lay off employees, trim salaries and scale back programs.
School systems statewide have taken similar measures.
For a short time, educators pinned hopes on federal help. But South Carolina recently lost out on more than $440 million in federal money for education - $143 million in stimulus money and $300 million in the Obama administration's Race to the Top competition.
School officials say reform is needed.
But lawmakers have balked at overhauling the way South Carolina pays for public education.
The school board challengers were hesitant to criticize the board, but suggested they would do things differently.
"I don't think the school board does a bad job," said Johnson, a business software sales rep. "But it seems like there are a lot of unanimous votes. I wouldn't be afraid to put my hand up."
"It can be positive to have some new voices to shake things up a little more," said Thompson, a professional French horn player and owner of the music business Thompson Edition. Thompson wants to push for more creative spending. "I'm not fond of putting a lot of our energies into lobbying Columbia for more money."
Nicholson, a laboratory cabinet estimator, wants to engage parents by organizing meetings around popular school events.
"I've seen first hand that parental involvement is key in multiple and different aspects," he said. "You just have to go out there and make yourself available."
Ginny Moe, music director at Episcopal Church of Our Savior, wants the school board to do a better job of communicating with the public.
"They think the public's involved and behind them," said Moe, who has attended school board meetings consistently for the last two years. "I don't."
"I would like the opportunity to work with them. Just to have a different person there with new ideas."