Charleston Co. School Board expected to have 8 new members after unprecedented election

After a first-of-its-kind election Tuesday, the Charleston County School Board will likely emerge with eight out of nine seats filled by new members.
Published: Nov. 8, 2022 at 5:35 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 8, 2022 at 11:57 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - After a first-of-its-kind election Tuesday, the Charleston County School Board will likely emerge with eight out of nine seats filled by new members.

The unusual situation in which all nine seats went to voters in the same year came after the state legislature adjusted the length of board member terms. Normally only half of the school board seats would be on the ballot at one time, but the state legislature changed the law in 2020 to align school board members with Charleston County Council districts rather than constituent districts.

As of Tuesday night, none of the races had been officially called. But District 4 incumbent Courtney Waters is expected to hold on to her seat. She is up against Kevin Hollinshead, a former school board member who was voted out of office in the last election after being heavily targeted with attack ads from the Charleston Coalition for Kids. The coalition once again backed Waters.

As of 11:40 p.m., Waters had 64% of the vote over Hollinshead’s 36% with 14 of 24 precincts reporting.

At the start of the campaign, Waters was one of three incumbents hoping to keep their seats.

Incumbent Helen Frazier in District 8 faced former state superintendent candidate Travis Bedson, who was defeated in the primaries and decided to run for the Charleston County School Board. Frazier also faced Darlene Dunmeyer who is well-known in the Hollywood community and has become one of the top fundraisers among all districts.

As of 11:40 p.m., Frazier had 22% of the vote, behind Dunmeyer, who led with 36% and Bedson, who was a close second with 32%.

The third incumbent, Erica Cokley, who represents District 6, led Tuesday night with 35% of the vote, followed by Lee Runyon with 31%, Eric Thome with 27% and Samuel Whatley II with 7%. But Cokley had stopped actively campaigning and appeared to have effectively dropped out of the race, so it wasn’t immediately clear what would happen if the final count certified her as the winner.

Districts 1 and 4 had two candidates to choose from, while many others had three or four candidates. District 2 had the most with six candidates.

With constituent districts now divided among council districts, one school board member could represent your child’s elementary school but a different member could represent their high school.

Cindy Bohn Coats is the longest-serving board member who will not be up for reelection but says whether or not you are new to the board, this position requires a lot of responsibility.

“The board should provide follow-up and demand reporting so that the community understands how all of these complex different areas are working together to educate our children,” Coats said.

Coats says new board members have a lot of resources once they’re elected, including prior board meetings, training and access to former board members.

“I would encourage every newly elected school board member to use all those sources,” Coats said. “Not the source that may have endorsed you and helped fund your campaign or the source that says I’m an advocacy group that’s been around forever. You need to listen to those sources as well as other more neutral sources.”

Board members elected in the odd-numbered districts will have a four-year term. Those in even-numbered districts will have a two-year term. Starting in 2024, all board members will run for four-year terms.