Candidates face public

By Greg Gelpi

How can you correct past problems and prepare the county's children for the future?

Eight of the 15 candidates for the Clayton County Board of Education took questions from the community in the first public forum of the political season.

While the federal government is requiring accountability for students and schools, many of the 50 or so at the forum demanded accountability from the school board candidates.

Cyndi LaPierre, a parent at the forum, asked the candidates to raise their hands to show publicly that they would work with and support Clayton County schools Superintendent Barbara Pulliam.

The school board drew the ire of the public and was placed on probation in May 2003 by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools for a year after members of the board micromanaged the system and interfered in the superintendent's office.

LaPierre also asked each candidate to accept the existing board policy that caps board expenses at $2,500 for travel and training.

Candidates seeking office sought to distinguish themselves from current board members, and District 5 board member Barbara Wells, the only incumbent at the forum, sought to defend her record.

Wells said her commitment to the county, school system and students showed by her appearance at the forum.

"When I go to bed at night, I know I have done the right things," she said.

Her opponent, Jermaine Dawson, said that board members must build rapport with the community so that the community again trusts its board representatives.

"The main priority of the whole school system is not a personal agenda," Dawson said.

Despite the yearlong probation, Roosevelt Bailey, candidate for District 2, said his campaign is about "restoring the county to full accreditation" and shifting the "focus" back to the school system and off the school board.

The county "will no longer tolerate, will no longer accept" candidates and board members with personal agendas violating state law, Bailey said.

His opponent, Lois Baines Hunter, said that she will represent District 2 and not herself.

"My vote is my voice," Hunter said, adding that she will be the voice of the community.

Both candidates are seeking the seat of incumbent Chairwoman Nedra Ware, who did not attend.

The forum Monday at the Clayton County Schools Performing Arts Center was sponsored by The Grassroots Link and invited all candidates to interact with the community.

A second school board candidate forum is scheduled for 6 tonight. The Clayton County Coalition for Quality Education and Clayton County NAACP are holding the forum at Church Street Elementary School.

Other candidates at the forum were Michelle L. Jackson, Eddie White, Joel Dixon and Devadas Lynton.

Those who did not attend were Ware, Carol Kellam, Yolanda Everett, Norreese "Coach" Haynes, Wendell "Rod" Johnson, Janice V. Scott and David Ashe.

The primary election will be July 20.