Two active community members round out the four candidates for the only opposed race to join the nine-member Sumter School District Board of Trustees.
Gloria Lee and Jay Linginfelter spoke recently on their candidacy for the open Area 6 seat on the board being vacated by board Chairman the Rev. Ralph Canty, who has decided not to seek re-election.
A Sumter native, Lee works for the state Department of Corrections at Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville. She is a program coordinator overseeing the re-entry program to help inmates prepare for release. The position works hand in hand with the Department of Corrections Adult Education program at the facility. In her post, she also helps individuals with vocational programming to prepare for employment in the outside world.
A graduate of Sumter High School in 1983, Lee has been with the Department of Corrections for 25 years and held her current position for 15-plus years, she said.
Lee noted that she is also an ordained minister, serving as an assistant minister at Fourth Crossroad Baptist Church in Manning. The position allows her to minister and counsel youth and others within the church and the community.
With a doctorate in Christian counseling from the James Dussault University in Columbia, Lee has also written one book, Old Church, New Church. This is her first time running for political office.
Lee said she thinks the top challenge Sumter School District is currently facing is funding, especially related to Sumter County Council. County council has turned down the district for millage rate increases for four consecutive years. For the district to move forward, it needs funding, she said. Given COVID-19, Lee said she thinks the district needs more funding now and also moving forward.
She said she thinks the district has done a good job with technology and various programs and continuing that movement forward is important in the role as a board member.
"To build on those things that the district already has in place is where I would like to start right now," Lee said. "Because to go in and try to invent something and not really try to fulfill the things already in place is not going to work."
Lee is also involved in other aspects of the community, including serving as a community chaplain and as a life member of the Lincoln High School Alumni Association, among other activities.
Linginfelter is a military veteran, having served four years in the U.S. Air Force at Shaw Air Force Base. He's been in Sumter for 25 years, dating back to his assignment at Shaw in 1995.
Previously a local Realtor, Linginfelter is now the Multiple Listing Services (MLS) director and government affairs director at the Sumter Board of Realtors.
In that post, he keeps organizational members abreast on issues related to Sumter County Council and Sumter City Council, he said, and tries to build relationships with elected officials at the state level.
Linginfelter's only previous political experience was in 2018 when he ran for one of the two county-wide, at-large seats on the Sumter school board that were won by former district superintendent Frank Baker and Shawn Ragin.
Linginfelter said he thinks the county-wide race was a little too much to jump into for a first run at office and said he thinks the Area 6 race now is a better fit for him.
He also said he thinks now he has more experience under his belt, more connections and has built trust and support to have a better shot at winning.
Linginfelter said he has attended most open board meetings the last two years to become knowledgeable on issues, started a Sumter School Board information Facebook page, made himself available and is passionate about making the district and its schools better for the whole community and specifically for the children.
His campaign slogan, he said, is "Close the gap," referring to a lack of local funding for the district and lower educational outcomes for the district compared to state averages.
He also noted county council has turned the school district down for four straight years for millage increases. The lack of funding hurts the district in numerous ways, including the number of teachers it can hire, how much it can pay them, class sizes and the number of support personnel on hand.
Linginfelter has done research on the funding gap, noting that the district is one of only eight districts in the state that starts teachers at the minimum salary threshold of $35,000. He noted comparable districts in Florence, Kershaw, Richland and Lexington counties have much higher levels of local funding.
As far as the district's successes, Linginfelter noted it has turned the corner and improved its financial balance sheet. He said he is also pleased with Superintendent Penelope Martin-Knox, who has been in her role for a little more than a year now. Linginfelter also noted the advancement of STEM and STEAM programs across the district's schools.
In the area of challenges, Linginfelter said the district has a poor perception in the community and with the military at Shaw.
For the most part, board members don't participate in the community and are not transparent in their actions, he said.
Community support is critical, he said.
"I ask the question: 'Why isn't Sumter School District the best in the state, why can't we be the best in the state?,' Linginfelter said. "I think we can be, but it is going to have to take full community support to get there. From our students, from parents, from city and county council, from a push from the base. It has to be a desire of what the people want for us to get there, but I believe that we can get there and then there is no reason we shouldn't be a leader and in the news for something good, rather than something bad."
He said the district also needs to address rezoning for population shifts in Sumter during the last 25 years.
As far as community involvement, Linginfelter is part of the We Ball 4 Destin Foundation, initiated by Mariel Cooper. He is also a past member and treasurer of the Sumter Sertoma Club, among other activities, he said.
Registered voters who live in the school district's Area 6 can vote in this race. Sumter's school board districts are the same as Sumter County Council districts.
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