North Augusta residents have had a love-hate relationship with local schools for a long time. We applaud our great teachers and administrators, but often complained about the facilities, the Aiken County Board of Education and its treatment of the North Augusta schools through the years.

In the last few years, more of us have been impressed with the sensibility, dedication and enthusiasm of Ray Fleming on the School Board.

He and Keith Liner, the other School Board member representing the North Augusta area, have both worked tirelessly to get the best they can for North Augusta, to see that the area was treated fairly, to educate the public on the truth of each situation and to represent their constituents with well-researched logic.

So when Fleming announced he was not going to run again for the Board of Education, I anticipated someone of equal dedication to pick up the torch.

I hoped that during the next few months, since Ray wouldn’t have to campaign for his School Board seat, he would be able to spend some of his energy on the proposed 1-cent sales tax which, if approved, would result in the construction of a new North Augusta High School over a much smaller time frame than is currently in place. (With the funds now allotted to Aiken County for facilities – without the 1-cent sales tax – it will take more than 30 years to rebuild the high school, using the current multi-phase plan that is in place.)

I looked forward to seeing who would step forward to take his place, because there are many capable North Augustans who could represent the area schools.

It requires only 50 valid signatures of residents in a school District to get the candidate’s name on the ballot – 50 signatures, and it doesn’t matter if you plan to vote for that candidate. You can sign a petition to help get a name on the ballot, so that we at least would have had a choice.

With all this in mind, it was with disappointment that I greeted the news that as of the July 15 deadline, no one stepped up to run for a seat on the board that guides our children’s education in this county – no one from one of the most affluent, educated communities in the county.

No one felt the urge to be a part of the process that helps determine the quality of education that our children get.

I remember several occasions when I found myself in an argument with Sam Woodring, former owner of The Star.

Woodring was something of a rabble-rouser, so it was often difficult to know whether he was serious in his viewpoint, but where the schools were concerned, he was nothing if not consistent. He would insist, “I don’t have kids in the schools. Why should I have to pay school taxes?” And my response was always the same: If we don’t do everything we can to support education, if we don’t voice our opinions, if we don’t fight for what we deserve, then what happens to the United States in future generations? It is incumbent upon all of us to work for the best system of public education that we can afford.

Otherwise, the Alexander Graham Bells, the Steve Jobs, the Henry Fords of the future may be lost in the shuffle. The United States has a proud heritage of men and women who think outside the box, who find a way to do things when lesser men insist there is no way.

Our public schools have produced most of those free-thinking, innovative people. Without strong support from all of us, some of those budding innovators will not get the encouragement they need.

Without the proper support and guidance, our schools will fall short. And I don’t mean simply the financial aspects. Without clever, creative souls being willing to step up and do their part to make our community a better place, we are lost. Teachers cannot single-handedly produce the leaders of tomorrow.

We are now in a predicament. It is too late for anyone to become a petition candidate – which is the only way to get your name on the ballot. Now to run for School Board from District 5 in November a person must declare himself or herself a write-in candidate. Such a candidate will have to campaign to get North Augusta voters to write in his or her name on the ballot that otherwise will be blank for the District 5 race. (The advantage in officially declaring as a write-in candidate is that when people write in “J. Smith,” for example, and you are Jack Smith, the Elections Commission will give that declared candidate the benefit of the doubt and assume J. Smith and Jack Smith are one in the same when counting the votes.) Though more awkward, at least there is that recourse.

I issue a challenge to all local folks – those who have complained about the schools, who are appalled by the condition of the schools, as well as those who have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to support our schools. You can make a difference. You can speak for your friends and neighbors. You can make sure the concerns important to North Augusta are heard at the Aiken County Board of Education.

But to ensure North Augusta’s children get proper representation, someone will have to rise to the occasion. Someone will have to step forward, knowing that there are always naysayers, knowing it would be easier to sit at home and complain.

Now is the time to take a risk and speak for our children. They deserve our support. They deserve good representation.

It’s all up to you. Ray Fleming is ready to pass the torch; be the person ready to run with it.

Phyllis Britt is the former news editor and a current feature columnist for The Star in North Augusta.