By Clay Wilson
Seven newcomers will vie for two of three open seats on the Henry County Board of Education in November.
By noon Friday, a total of nine candidates had qualified for the three open seats on the school board, which include the posts for districts I, II and III.
School board districts correspond to county commission districts. However, district divisions generally are not as much of a factor in school board politics as they are for the commission.
According to Mary Ann Mitcham, the outgoing District II board member, that's because school attendance zones don't necessarily correspond to commission districts. So, she said, "There'll be two, sometimes three people representing a school (attendance zone)."
For instance, although she lives in Hampton, Mitcham represents constituents in the Eagle's Landing school attendance zone which lies in a different school board district.
Mitcham, who has been on the board for 12 years, also said board members usually don't think in terms of districts.
"The school system is one whole system, and we just look at it as serving all the children," she said.
Nevertheless, for election purposes, the candidates run by district.
In District I, incumbent Pam Nutt of Locust Grove is running unopposed. Nutt, 44, is a media specialist for the Spalding County School System. She is wrapping up her second consecutive term on the board.
The field for District II is wide open, with six candidates qualifying for the position.
Mitcham, the current vice-chairman of the board, chose not to run for re-election, fulfilling what she said was a pledge from her last campaign.
"I just think it's time for some new energy to come on," she said.
However, the 12-year member said she's going to miss the school board (except for the "politics" and the "extra meetings").
"I'm going to miss making a difference in people's lives," she said. "This week, when I know everybody is qualifying, it's been hard for me not to change my mind."
Those qualifying to fill the post Mitcham is leaving include Jeffrey D. Dinkins Sr., 36, of Jonesboro (Dinkins lives in Henry County, but has a Jonesboro address). Currently a code enforcement manager for Fulton County, Dinkins taught for four years and worked two other years in support positions for Atlanta City Schools. He is a certified teacher in middle-grades math, English and social studies.
Also running for District II is Bill McManus of McDonough. McManus, 61, retired this year as principal of Patrick Henry High School, the county's alternative school. He has 22 years of educational experience, 20 of which were in Henry County Schools. McManus was a prime mover in the founding of PHHS in 1994.
Bart Royston, 47, of Stockbridge, is also trying for the seat. A coordinator of operations with Delta Airlines, Royston last year opposed the county's plan to connect Flippen and Jonesboro roads, including a tie-in to the school system's Dutchtown complex. He has been vocal in other system issues, including redistricting for Mt. Carmel Elementary School and the switch to a balanced calendar.
Another contender is Debbie Wade, 46, of Hampton. Wade is the owner of The Country Store produce market on Tara Boulevard. She has served as president of the Hampton Elementary Parent-Teacher Organization for four years, and worked on the committee that helped pass this year's school bond referendum.
Carlotta Harrell, 43, of the Henry County portion of Jonesboro, has also thrown her hat into the District II ring. A supervisor for Delta Airlines subsidiary Atlantic Southeastern Airlines (ASA), Harrell also has law enforcement experience with the Henry County Bureau of Police Services and Georgia Bureau of Investigation. She has volunteered at Pate's Creek Elementary School and is involved with that school's PTO.
Also joining the race is Brian Preston, 30, of Locust Grove. A certified public accountant who owns Preston Financial, Inc., Preston attended Henry County Schools from kindergarten through 12th grade. The son of a recently retired Henry County teacher, he has served as a substitute teacher for the system, and helped implement a financial education program at Eagle's Landing High School.
Two candidates qualified for the District III seat, one of whom is incumbent Charles Vickery, of McDonough. Vickery, 56, is an insurance broker/agent. He is finishing his second consecutive term on the school board. Vickery has one child who graduated from Henry County schools and another who is still a student.
Bob Gaylor, 56, of McDonough, will challenge Vickery. Gaylor is director of the Georgia Police Corps Program, training students who attended college on Corps scholarships to become police. His wife is a student services team coordinator for Henry County Schools, and his daughter attends Union Grove High School. Gaylor is a member of the school's PTO, and president of the UGHS Chorus Booster Club.
All of the candidates paid a qualifying fee of $438.89. Since board of education seats are non-partisan, they will not be up for votes in the July 20 primary. They will be on the ballot for the Nov. 2 general election.
A runoff election, if necessary, will be scheduled for Nov. 23. Since there are more than two candidates for the District II seat, a 45 percent plurality will be required to avoid a runoff. For the District III seat, a 51 percent majority will be required.