Candidate drops out of race

By Trina Trice

One of the three candidates for the District 8 school board seat has dropped out of the race, leaving two candidates.

Barbara Halstead, a substitute teacher, has removed her bid for candidacy, said Ann Smith, elections official.

Halstead could not be reached for comment to discuss her reasons.

The two remaining candidates for the vacant seat on the Clayton County Board of Education say they are running to help end what they feel to be dysfunction among present members.

Allen Johnson and Natisha Lee are running for hottest seat in the county. They are vying for the District 8 seat on the school board left vacant by Sue Ryan.

Ryan resigned from the board after serving only three months of her four-year term. She cited concern for her family as a reason for leaving the position.

District 8 is in northeastern Clayton County, and includes parts of Morrow, Forest Park, Lake City, Conley and Ellenwood. It is bordered on the west by Ga. Highway 54 and partially bordered on the east by Ga. Highway 42, and extends from the DeKalb County line in the north to the intersection of Rock Creek Drive and Fielder Road in the south.

Johnson and Lee have lived in Morrow for several years.

Johnson, 73, is a retired Clayton County educator, having served as principal of Lake City Elementary School for 29 years. He has a wife of 22 years and two adult children from a previous marriage who are graduates of Morrow High School.

"I got perturbed by the shenanigans of the school board," he said.

Johnson says he knows a lot about accreditation and is worried about the school system losing its own.

"I know what it means for a school system to lose accreditation," he said. "Not only will students lose HOPE (a Georgia lottery program for high school students going to college), but graduating seniors won't be able to go to universities. If we lose it, it would take years for the system to get it back."

Natisha Lee, 27, is a cashier at Wal-Mart Super Center in Morrow and calls herself a concerned mother. She is a single mother with three children. Her oldest daughter is the only one who currently attends school. The other two are too young.

"I heard a lot about the school being on probation," Lee said. "I just want to work as a team on the school board. I'm looking to make Clayton County Schools better for the children."

When it comes to the racial issues that have surfaced during the controversy surrounding the school board, neither candidate wants any part in perpetuating them.

According to figures at the end of 2002, there are 4,125 black voters, 3,073 white voters, 28 Asians and 30 Hispanics in the district.

About 48 percent of total population in the district is black, 10 percent is Hispanic and the rest are white or Asian, according to data from the state Reapportionment Office.

"I'm not a racist, I look at you like anyone else," Lee said, who is black. "It shouldn't matter what color they are. (Playing the race card) is childish. There's no use for all that. It's not going to make matters better, it'll just make it worse."

Johnson, who is white, believes the cultural diversity that is prevalent in the school system is something everyone should learn how use advantageously.

"Education is the number one thing on people's minds," he said. "Education is important. It's not only for the white person, it's for the black person, it's for the Asians, Laotians, etc."

Johnson is confident of his ability to contribute as a school board member.

"A lot's at stake here," he said. "I don't want to be seen as taking sides with anyone. I will vote for the best interest of the students, the schools and teachers. I've got a mind of my own, I've got a pretty good education, and I know the system."

Lee isn't worried about critics who might say that she lacks experience for the job.

"They don't know me, no one can judge me," she said. "I'm just human just like anyone else. Someone may say I'm not qualified, but I'm not worried about what anyone has to say about me. I just want to make sure all children are taken cared of. Not just black, but all children."

Clayton County voters must register to vote by Aug. 18 in order to vote for the special election Sept. 16.