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BOE District 2, 5 seats still up for grabs
Partisan challengers force races after shool starts

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

While the July 15 primary election, and Tuesday's runoff, settled most of the seven board races, a campaign is just starting for two candidates who had partisan opposition.

Republicans Della Ashley and Diana Nicholson are candidates in the Nov. 4, general election for the District 2 and 5 school board seats.

Ashley will face Democratic nominee Wanda Smith in District 2. Nicholson will challenge Democratic nominee Ophelia Burroughs in District 5.

Neither Republican candidate had opposition in the primary election.

"It's a huge relief to finally know who I am facing," Nicholson said. "Before, it felt like me against all of the Democratic candidates, and now it's boiled down to one person."

While 24 Democratic, and five nonpartisan school board candidates, spent the summer focused on the July 15 primary election, Republicans Ashley and Nicholson were able to focus on the November general election.

"I've just enjoyed getting to know the other candidates running for this seat," Ashley said. "My plan has been, and will continue to be, to contact as many voters as possible and raise their awareness of my campaign. I don't have a huge budget, so I'll just have to use the budget I have."

Nicholson said she also wants to meet as many people as possible, so they will know for whom they are voting. "I know what it's like to go to the polls and ask ,'Who are these people?'" she said. "I want to go door to door, so people will say, 'Oh yeah, I remember Mrs. Nicholson, she came to my house.'"

Both candidates said it will be an uphill battle to win as Republicans in a heavily Democratic county, particularly on a ticket which features popular Democratic presidential candidate, Barack Obama.

Nicholson said she has repeatedly been asked if "I have lost my mind," because she is running as a Republican. She also said school candidates should not run as Republicans or Democrats, because she does not see how party affiliation influences the school board members. She said there is an upside to being on the same ballot as the presidential candidates.

"I think it will actually help me, because it will bring more people to the polls," Nicholson said. "I want people to vote for me because they think I am the most qualified person for the job, not because of the party I am affiliated with."

Ashley said she will still feel like she has done a good job, if she can get more voters to show up at the polls on election day. "We saw with the primaries that the turnout was not very high, and that's something we need to address," she said.

Ashley is a registered nurse, who practiced for 11 years, until the birth of her third child in 2003. She is currently a homemaker, she said. Her family has lived in Jonesboro for 13 years. She did not divulge much information about her children because she did not want them dragged into the race, but her oldest daughter will be a freshman this fall at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

She said her plan, if elected, is to work to help the district prevent another accreditation crisis.

Democrat Wand Smith said she has not decided on an approach to campaigning against Ashley, and admitted she does not know much about her opponent. Smith is taking an open approach to dealing with voters because "people want to be connected to what is going on."

Nicholson is a graduate of Jonesboro High School and Clayton State University. She went on to teach at her high school alma mater for five years, until she left the teaching profession in 2006, to be a stay-at-home mother for her two sons, Timmy, 4, and Brock, 2.

Nicholson said she would like to see the school system be more open with the community; students not having to worry about accreditation; and school officials enacting strong discipline policies and standing by those policies when challenged by parents.

Nicholson has one thing in common with her opponent, Ophelia Burroughs. Both are former Jonesboro High School teachers. Burroughs taught at the school for 23 years, until she retired in 2002, and Nicholson taught for five years, beginning in 2001.

The two did not associate with each other very often while they were teachers, but Burroughs said on Tuesday she is going to take Nicholson seriously as a candidate, because "I take every election seriously."