Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Dwight Loftis on Staton's Status Quo Shakedown

FITS received some information recently about Superintendent of Education candidate Bob "Status Quo" Staton shaking down M.B. Kahn, Inc., the state's largest public school construction firm, and its subsidiaries for big dollar campaign contributions.

We were tempted to write a blog about it until we saw a magnificent opinion editorial on this very subject by Rep. Dwight Loftis (pictured), which appeared in last week's edition of the Greenville Times Examiner.

Since we couldn't have said it better ourselves, FITS is proud to offer for your consideration the following opinion editorial from Rep. Loftis regarding the latest "Staton Status Quo Shakedown:"

Extortion, Shrewd Politics, or Status Quo Shakedown?
By Rep. Dwight Loftis

The most important political race in South Carolina could very well be in the June 13th Republican Primary for State Superintendent of Education.

One question is crucial to voters in this election, “Do I want South Carolina to rise from the bottom in student performance or continue down the path of mediocrity?”

Recent Republican Primary elections have produced the chameleon politician. A Democrat who portrays himself to have conservative Republican values when in reality has a record of just the opposite. The race for State Superintendent of Education has seemingly not only produced at least one such candidate but one who blatantly seems to be using shakedown tactics in campaign fundraising efforts to achieve his goal.

Former Education Oversight Chairman Bob Staton is running as a “conservative” in the Republican Primary, promising “More Results, Less Waste.” His record however, tells a different story of support for big government and for maintaining the status quo of a floundering education system where student achievement is consistently mired in mediocrity.

It should be no secret that I am a longtime supporter of needed educational reform. I passionately disagree with Chairman Staton’s belief that the solution for improving education is to throw still more money at a failing, patently flawed public school system that is leaving far too many of our children behind. Perhaps a more truthful slogan would read, More Waste, Less Results.

As former Chairman of the Education Oversight Committee Mr. Staton should justify the fact, why per pupil funding has more than doubled over the past decade, pouring billions of additional dollars into an education bureaucracy but continues to produce the nation’s worst graduation and lowest SAT scores.

I also leave it entirely to Chairman Staton to justify why one out of every four public schools in our state is either failing or below average according to the accountability standards he himself was personally responsible for administering.

While I disagree with Chairman Staton, I respect his right to his beliefs. What I cannot respect and refuse to ignore is one who claims to support “changing the system,” while at the same time is actively shaking down that very system’s most powerful entrenched forces for campaign contributions in an effort to ensure its enduring legacy of underachievement.

Sadly, this is precisely what Chairman Staton’s campaign appears to be doing- operating a “status quo” shakedown at the expense of the school children of the state of South Carolina.

It has recently come to light that the largest public school construction company in the state is actively involved in fundraising efforts for Mr. Staton, in what some might consider a “shakedown” of its subcontractors and related companies that do business with the state. I have obtained a copy of a letter under the letterhead of M.B. Kahn Company, Inc. written to such contractors. This is a major contractor, doing millions of dollars of work in South Carolina, most of it in schools.

In a “wink-and-nod” letter asking these companies to give $500 each to Staton’s campaign, the letter reads in part, “I appreciate the partnership that our respective companies have enjoyed over the years and I am now writing to ask your support…” The letter continues with, “I am also personally asking you to support Bob, financially. I ask that you make a $500 contribution to his campaign…”

Is this a shakedown, extortion or shrewd political fundraising? You may draw your own conclusions, but if I were in the shoes of those contractors I would consider it a threat to, “either do what I ask or forget about doing business with us. Just consider it a cost of doing business or forget about having a piece of the ‘action’ in the multi-billion dollar school construction business.”

Unfortunately, this isn’t the only example of the tactics coming out of the Staton campaign, as there are other letters. School administrators are being asked to post invitations for Staton receptions at the school to encourage school staff to attend.

Whether you call this a shakedown, extortion, influence buying or shrewd politics, it paints a sickening picture of devious politics preying on honest small businessmen and the teachers and administrators we ask to teach our children. This is clearly a system defending itself, protecting itself from any reform or change.

All of these tactics are despicable and frankly beneath the dignity of the Superintendent’s office and anyone who would seek to occupy it. In fact, these tactics contribute to election of candidates, whether Mr. Staton or anyone else, whose only idea of “changes to the system” are tax increases, spending increases and more of the same wasteful, inefficient and ineffective bureaucracy that has made our current system the laughing stock of the entire nation. I’m sure most of us have heard that the definition o stupid is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

As a South Carolina Legislator and native South Carolinian, I will continue to support structural reforms to our public school system. My loyalty will always reside with what I believe to be the best for each individual child in this state, not what serves the special interest of well-heeled state bureaucrats and their corporate cronies.

It gives me no pleasure to criticize a candidate, but these tactics are not in the best interest of children or the taxpayers and should be exposed. As a businessman in the 1980’s I saw the deficiencies in students who came from public education system and became a volunteer in the Business Education Partnership, hoping to contribute something that would improve student outcomes in Greenville. I began to see then what still continues today, a protective hedge around a flawed system delinquent to its responsibilities to our children. Despite slick campaign slogans, Mr. Staton’s campaign “arm twisting” has made it clear where he stands – firmly on the side of those who would keep business as usual at all cost, and leave over 130,000 South Carolina school children trapped in an educational setting that is failing to meet their needs. Such failure will last their lifetime and our children deserve better. South Carolina deserves better.

We have a choice in South Carolina- we can embrace changes and real reform, expanding educational opportunity and improving public school performance or we can settle for more of the same failure from special interest-fed politicians who would stop at nothing to maintain the status quo.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a eye opener of how schools and their friends in construction companies will try and control our student and our $$$$ and be happy to be last in the country.
Thanks again. Keep up the good work

6:06 PM

Anonymous seventh generation south carolinian said...

Oh, yes, it is much better for Ms. Floyd to finance her campaign for Governor, I mean Supt. of Ed., with out-of-state contributions. Barbara Neilson did her best to destroy our education system but was unable to do so. Perhaps if Ms. Floyd wins (and I pray everyday that she doesn't), she--with the help of our fabulous Governor Clueless and his radical right wing supporters--will be able to completely gut the system. Maybe we can get rid of public education altogether. After all, universal public education hasn't existed in SC for very many years anyway. Let's get rid of it. And while we're at it, let's secede again and reinstitute slavery. If everyone learns to read and think, they might realize what our "leaders" are really up to.

5:57 PM


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