School incumbents beat: Hunter, Johnson and Ashe win school board elections

By Greg Gelpi

School board members survived calls for their resignations and a year-long probation, but couldn't survive an election.

All three incumbents for the Clayton County Board of Education were defeated in runoff elections Tuesday.

The losses will result in five new members on the nine-member board. The change comes after the much-embattled school system learned in June that its accrediting agency decided to lift the system's yearlong probation.

Chairwoman Nedra Ware, Barbara Wells and Carol Kellam all fell in the Democratic Primary runoff.

Lois Baines Hunter unseated Ware, while Wendell Rod Johnson beat Wells and David Ashe beat Kellam. There were a few provisional and military ballots still to be counted, but not enough to change the outcome.

"The seats being served by elected officials do not belong to elected officials," Hunter said. "They belong to the people, and the people have spoken."

Hunter said she looks forward to serving all of Clayton County.

Hunter had 1,218 votes, compared to Ware's 437 votes.

In the initial election, Hunter pulled in 1,651 votes, while Ware had 1,290. Roosevelt Bailey had 781 votes.

Hunter, a community activist, has supported getting down in the trenches of education, touting her connections to the people in the community and ability to sit down with leaders of local gangs.

Everywhere we go people hear Clayton County and identify us as the school system that was on probation, said Callaway Elementary School parents Michelle Baskett and Terri Macklin.

Although they didn't say who they voted for in the Ware and Hunter race, they said they were tired of politics trumping education and the school children.

School board members should get in line with Superintendent Barbara Pulliam and drop the political infighting, she said.

Georgia Ingram, who goes to church with Ware, said, though, she supported the incumbent and said she has done nothing wrong.

The probation came after the board, led by Ware, appointed Kellam to fill a vacant seat and then fired Superintendent Dan Colwell minutes later.

The school board has been deeply divided with Ware, Kellam, LaToya Walker and Connie Kitchens often voting together.

In campaign literature signed jointly by Ware and Kellam, they dismissed the probation and calls for their resignation by the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce as ploys by the white power structure to dismantle the minority-controlled school board.

"SACS clearly over-stepped their boundaries by placing this system on PROBATION," the campaign literature states. "This was done to control board decision making power, keep them from restructuring the system and to embarrass the first majority black controlled government agency."

Ashe had 540 votes, while Kellam had 186 votes.

"I think the people are saying it's time for a change," Ashe said. "I'm really grateful for winning this big."

Ashe is retired from the Department of Human Resources. He entered the race wanting to restore professionalism to the board.

He edged Kellam by five votes in the primary election. Ashe had 654 votes to Kellam's 649 votes. Devadas Lynton had 432 votes.

After the initial election, Lynton endorsed Ashe for the school board seat and promised his support.

Ashe said it was hard getting his supporters back to the polls, but the hard work is yet to come. He will spend the coming months attending PTA meetings and meeting with principals.

Wells had 338 votes, and Johnson had 513 votes.

Wells distinguished herself from Ware and Kellam, saying she supported the national search for a superintendent, followed board policy and communicated with the public. Being part of the board during the controversy, though, hurt her re-election bid, Wells said.

"I'm disappointed, but I'm not surprised," she said. "With all of the mess surrounding the school board this past year, I think the county wanted new board members."

Wells received 849 votes in the primary election to advance to a runoff with Johnson, who had 491 votes. Norreese Haynes had 490 votes, and Jermaine Dawson had 408 votes.

Johnson's campaign brochure says he is the pastor of New Ambassadors Church in Fayetteville and an educator in the Atlanta public school system. He is a former congressional aide to U.S. Congressman David Scott, D-Atlanta; military officer for the U.S. Army and member of the Clayton County Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax Committee.

The only Republican running for school board, Joel Dixon, will face Democratic candidate Eddie White for the District 6 seat in the November general election.

White was nominated July 20, defeating Janice Scott. Incumbent Bob Livingston did not seek re-election. Also, Yolanda Everett was nominated three weeks ago, defeating Michelle Jackson. Incumbent Linda Crummy did not seek re-election.

The new board members will take office in January.