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BOE challengers seek to oust Baines-Hunter

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Four years ago, Lois Baines-Hunter was one of three candidates vying to replace Clayton County Board of Education Chairperson Nedra Ware, in the wake of an accreditation crisis, which resulted in the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools putting the school system on probation.

Baines-Hunter won easily won in a runoff with 73.6 percent of the vote. Her race was billed as a case of hope for future change on the board, defeating the past problems of the school system's governing body.

Now Baines-Hunter, ironically, finds herself in Ware's position as another group of concerned citizens have lined up to unseat her in the midst of another accreditation crisis.

"The voters are going to decide they want a change, and they are going to make a change on July 15. Change is the only constant in this universe. It is always taking place, " said candidate Lindsey McDaniel, III. He is a 43-year-old senior training manager for AT&T.

McDaniel -- along with challengers, Andre Glover, 43, a finance director; Letarcher Prayor, 37, a human resources representative; Wanda Smith, 52, a MARTA bus operator; and Della Ashley, 46, a homemaker -- want to oust Baines-Hunter.

McDaniel was the only candidate who could be reached for comment on Thursday. In an effort to get comments from his opponents, several phone calls were placed to home phone numbers for Baines-Hunter, Smith, and Ashley, as well as the only phone number listed for Glover. Attempts were made to contact Baines-Hunter on her district-provided cell phone, but her voicemail was full and messages could not be left for her.

Ashley's husband said she was not home, but she was expected to return later, but a return call was never received. The home phone number listed for Prayor was disconnected and she did not respond to several attempts to reach her at her office phone, as well as a phone number listed on whitepages.com.

Quotes from Smith, Ashley, Glover and Prayor come from various candidate forums they have attended. Quotes from Baines-Hunter come from past gatherings of the board.

"We have a wonderful school system," Letarcher Prayor said earlier during a May 12 candidates forum. "When we're done, we'll have the best -- I want to say in the world -- but we'll have the best school system in metro Atlanta."

Over the course of the last two months, many of the Democratic District 2 candidates said conflict resolution within the board is an issue the winner of this race will have to work on with his or her colleagues.

"What we have now [on the board of education] is a personality conflict, which has nothing to do with educating our kids," Andre Glover said during a May 12 candidates forum.

"We've got to do away with the egos and the personal agendas, and get back to focusing on the children," Lindsey McDaniel said when he was contacted on Thursday. "We need a partnership between the school board, the community, the parents, the teachers, and the administrators. It's like we're holding hands and building a circle around the children to protect them."

Della Ashley, the lone Republican in the race, said board members need "a cooperative spirit, and they need to speak up for the best ideas."

During an April 12 training session for the board, Baines-Hunter said the atmosphere between board members was starting to show signs of improvement. "This training session has been so much better than the last one [on Jan. 5]," Baines-Hunter said. "Everybody is carefree. Everybody is talking to each other. The last training session was horrible. No one talked. It was very intimidating."

The outspoken board member often raises questions during meetings about whether programs benefit students with disabilities and non-English speaking students. But her actions have been called into questions by a colleague on the board at least twice in the last year.

Fellow board member Rod Johnson called her residential status into question in November, raising the question of whether she lived in the county, but an investigation conducted by Secretary of State Karen Handel's office determined every board member lived in their respective district.

A month later, Johnson also criticized Baines-Hunter for spending $523 on a hotel room in Atlanta during the Council of Urban Board of Education conference, which was held Sept. 27-30. Baines-Hunter explained that she got the hotel room because she had to be at the conference early one morning, and it was the weekend of a Georgia Institute of Technology football game.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) listed the hotel stay as a possible example of unethical behavior by a board member.

At a June 9 forum hosted by the school system's Superintendent's Student Advisory Council, Wanda Smith addressed the issue of board ethics and punishments for board members who violate established ethics policies. "They would have been punished, if I was on the board," Smith said. "There have to be reprimands in the future, even if that means suspending a member, or asking them to resign."

During the forum, Smith also said future board members have to "work together and respect cultural differences." She also said the board members have to "stand up and make a sound decision."

Smith was critical of one of the recent decisions made by the board during the May 19 candidates forum that was hosted by the Clayton County Council of PTAs -- the contract given to Corrective Superintendent John Thompson in April. Thompson makes a base salary of $285,000 per year.

"His salary is way over the top," Smith said. "If I was a current board member, I would have done more research before I made that decision." Smith said one of her top priorities will be to hire a permanent superintendent.

Making sure teachers have the resources to successfully teach students was another issue that some of the candidates have either talked about, or grappled with.

"Accreditation is, of course, going to be the number one issue facing our school system, but we've also got to focus on the curriculum," said McDaniel. "We need to give the teachers and the administrators the resources they need so they can continue teaching our children to the fullest.

"You can't give someone a spoon and expect them to dig a ditch in a day," echoed Andre Glover, during a June 16 candidates forum hosted by the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce.

Making sure teachers have the resources needed to teach children has -- at times -- been an emotional issue for Baines-Hunter, during her four years on the board. In September 2007, she was critical of school system officials when the district had a massive shortage of 4,500 textbooks at the beginning of the 2007-2008 school year.

"I'm looking at you [staff members], and I'm saying you have no integrity ... These are children we're talking about," Baines-Hunter exclaimed as she vented at staff members, according to a Sept. 12, 2007 report in the Clayton News Daily.