MYRTLE BEACH — The general election campaign for South Carolina superintendent of education is underway with the three candidates agreeing Sunday improvements are needed but exchanging gibes and disagreeing over who can get the job done.


“One of my colleagues up here has been the director of School Administrators Association for nine years and I’m not seeing school improvement in those nine years,” American Party candidate Ed Murray told about 300 people attending a forum held by the South Carolina School Boards Association.


Sitting next to him was Republican Molly Spearman of Saluda, the former director of the school administrators group who emerged from an eight-way June primary to win the GOP nomination.


“Party matters” in public education said Democrat Tom Thompson, a former dean of graduate studies at South Carolina State University who bested three other Democrats in the primary.


“You can have the state superintendent of education say one thing but the party behind that person has to be consistent with what the state superintendent says,” he added, in a comment directed at Republicans, some of whom favor taxpayer vouchers for private school students.


Spearman, meanwhile, said the way to improve education is for people to work together.


“The job and our efforts are too important for us to squabble and not get along,” she said. “I have worked hard over my career never to burn bridges.”


The American Party was founded by former Superintendent of Education Jim Rex as a way of getting things done without the ideological barriers of being Republican or Democrat, said Murray, the athletic director and an assistant principal at Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School.


The candidates discussed a number of issues:


Federal Involvement in Education


– Thompson said the federal role should be one of support because “certainly the federal government has an interest in public education.” But Murray said “my problem with the federal government right now is they are attaching too many strings to the resources they are giving us.” Spearman was blunter. “I think the federal government is overstepping its boundaries and education, as defined in our state Constitution, should be under local control,” she said.


Funding Education


– State lawmakers this year agreed to spend an additional $180 million on K-12 education. Thompson said it’s a matter of making sure every child in the state has a “high quality education, not a minimally adequate education so first and foremost, that language in the (state) Constitution needs to be changed.” Spearman called for a system of uniform tax millage statewide and allowing local school boards to hold referendums on funding programs. “I think our funding system needs to be simplified, clear and transparent,” Murray said.


Removing Incompetent Teachers


– Both Spearman and Murray said that there don’t need to be changes in the current law. Thompson said sometimes the process can take too long, leaving bad teachers in the classroom.


School District Consolidation


– All three candidates said that consolidation can save money and save precious education resources. But they said the decisions need to me made locally, not just by the state from Columbia.