By Curt Yeomans
The race for the Clayton County Board of Education District 4 seat has shaped up to be a match between experience and youth. But all three candidates have expressed a desire to improve the school system to make it one of the best.
The race includes incumbent school board member Michael King, who has been fighting to hold onto his seat almost since the day he took office. It also includes, R. Jermaine Coleman, and Xavier Ross, two fairly recent graduates of the school system, who are eager to bury the perception of the school system that has developed over the last seven years.
Accreditation of Clayton County Public Schools is the focal point for everyone in the District 4 race. For King, a 55-year-old attorney, the accreditation issue is "unfinished business" that is a long way from a resolution. "We have got to get this school board to the point where we are all on the same page so, we can get off of probation," King said. "If it wasn't for that, we'd probably already have our accreditation back. I think there's probably one, to two years to go, before we reach that point. "
For Coleman, 25, it's a "stigma" that he believes has turned the school system into a joke. He graduated from Lovejoy High School in 2003. "We need a rebirth," Coleman said. "When I was in the school system, Clayton County was really highly regarded. Parents wanted their children to be in the school system. Now, people are laughing at us."
For Ross, 19, it is just a matter the school system needs to finally put in its past. "We've been on probation too long," he said at a recent candidates forum. Ross, a 2008 graduate of Riverdale High School, could not be reached by press time on Tuesday.
The District 4 race is one of three contested school board races on the Democratic Primary ballot, July 20. There are no Republicans running for this seat. For King, re-election would do more than offer him a chance to help end the school system's probationary period, it would also help him in his bid to overturn an ethics law that was passed by the Georgia General assembly two years ago, specifically to govern the Clayton County school board.
Shortly after he took office in August 2008, King was faced with allegation that he had a conflict of interest, because he was representing a former teacher in a lawsuit against the school system -- while sitting on the school board. The ethics law was used to oust King from office last spring, after it was determined he did not notify his colleagues about the conflict of interest immediately.
King has been able to stay in office since then by appealing that decision. He has already lost his effort to overturn the law in Clayton County Superior Court, and the matter is now in the hands of the Court of Appeals of Georgia. Earlier this year, he said he thought the case might get thrown out if he left office at the end of the year.
When asked about the matter on Tuesday, King said he believed his lawsuits would soon become moot, however, because of a new school board governance bill that was signed into law by Gov. Sonny Perdue last month.
For King, the issues of improving student achievement, and finding ways to make the district more fiscally efficient follow accreditation as the most important issues for the school board.
Coleman is the chairman of the National Education Association's Student Program. He said the program works with college students -- who are studying to become teachers -- to help them find pre-professional development opportunities.
When asked about the fact that he is running against King, Coleman would not address the incumbent's past troubles. He only said, "I feel like I can do a better job."
Coleman also said there needs to be more support for those in education, particularly teachers.
Ross, the youngest candidate in the race, is a Morehouse College student, who said he is an eighth-grade teacher in the Lovett School's Breakthrough Atlanta Program. On June 1, he said his platform is to make improving student achievement the district's top priority, getting a balanced budget, and retaining and obtaining highly qualified teachers.