By Curt Yeomans
Twenty-six Clayton County school board candidates faced questions from the public about economic development, data usage, budgets, holding the superintendent accountable, and working with local businesses on Monday at a forum hosted by the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce.
About 100 residents and candidates for other elected offices also attended the forum, which was held at the Clayton County Performing Arts Center. Unlike many of the other forums the candidates have participated in, almost all of the nine questions at the chamber's three-hour gathering came from the public.
"The audience participation was great," said Lacey Ekberg, the chamber's president. "The public wanted to know more than, 'How are we going to fix the accreditation?' because it has such a far-reaching impact on this whole community."
The candidates who participated included: (District 2) Della Ashley, Lindsey McDaniel, Wanda Smith; (District 3) Blondie Perry-Christian; Andre Glover, Tammie Hardy, Marty Holder, Sr., Jessie Goree, Charles Davis; (District 4) Milton Mack; (District 5) Ophelia Burroughs, Robert Green, Diana Nicholson, Trena Morris, Jennifer Talley, Phyllis Moore; (District 6) Mabel Swaby, Marcela Bodkin, Mary Baker, John Askew, William Hill, Vernetta Reeves, Glenn Dowell; (District 7) Denese Sampson; (District 8) Alieka Anderson, and Ed Rigdon.
During the forum, the candidates answered questions which turned into a dialogue about the school system's impact on the business community and economic development.
"We need input from all of the stakeholders ... The school system affects not only student achievement, but so much more. It has a direct impact on economic development as well," said District 5 candidate Trena Morris.
"No one and no organization is going to want to relocate to Clayton County if we have an unaccredited school system," said District 5 candidate Robert Green.
"That means property values will diminish," said District 3 candidate Blondie Perry-Christian. "The businesses will not want to move here because of the fear that there is not enough of an educational base to meet their needs."
When asked how they could hold Corrective Superintendent John Thompson accountable for his actions, many of the candidates who responded, said they felt the school chief's contract, which allows him to act at times without board approval, left the future board little room to oversee him.
"The current board gave our superintendent a very unique contract," said District 3 candidate Jessie Goree. "Our hands are a bit tied."
The candidates had mixed views on the forum. Some of them expressed their approval of how it was run. "It gave the citizens an opportunity to address some of their concerns," said District 6 candidate William Hill.
Meanwhile, others were critical of the questions being asked of them.
"Some of the questions were not very good at all," said District 6 candidate Glenn Dowell. "They didn't have anything to do with the actual functions of the board. It just goes to show how uninformed the public is about what the board does."
Charles Walls, a resident of Riverdale, asked each candidate to identify the closest school to where they live; the school's principal, and how involved each candidate is in the schools.
Some of candidates could name the schools, but not the principals. Others could not only name all of the schools in their district, but the principals as well.
Others spent so much time talking about their own background, their answer to Walls' question got lost in what was being said.
Walls said he was impressed with the candidates as a whole, but he wasn't impressed with some of the individual candidates. "It seems like a few of them might be a little egotistical, but overall, I think they are genuinely interested in serving the children," he said.