UPDATE: School board incumbents Norene Marvets, James Walker lose to challengers

Athavia Senior takes District 3, Shannon Heflin wins District 7

tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.comAugust 1, 2012 

It was the CRCT of school board elections, testing the outrage of the moment against years of service, and for some it was a nail-biter of a night.

By complete but unofficial tallies, here are the scores from Muscogee County’s board races:

• District 1 Pat Hugley Green had 2,128 votes, of 54.7 percent, well ahead of challenger Al Stewart’s 1,757, or 45 percent.

• District 3 representative James Walker lost to challenger Athavia “A.J.” Senior 1,445 to 1,577, or 52 percent to 47.7 percent.

• District 5 incumbent Rob Varner had 1,661 votes, or 58 percent, to challenger Brian McCabe's 1,195 or 42.77 percent.

• District 7 representative Norene Marvets lost to challenger Shannon Heflin, 888 votes to 702, or 55.8 to 44 percent.

The test this election year was whether constituents angered by recent board controversies would outnumber the incumbents’ loyal supporters, leading to election upsets.

Some residents were outraged over the board’s voting May 21 to reject all of retiring Superintendent Susan Andrews’ proposed promotions, which humiliated the workers, for weeks left seven schools without principals, and jeopardized a five-county adult education program.

Some were further vexed by the board’s voting June 24 to pay former Superintendent John Phillips $17,206 a month to serve as interim, the cash value of Andrews’ total pay and benefits.

On July 5, five days after Andrews left office, the board on Phillips’ recommendation voted to approve the same promotions Andrews had proposed May 21 — with no clear explanation why those had to be delayed until Phillips took over.

Three of the five board members who voted against Andrews’ promotions May 21 and voted for Phillips’ pay were up for re-election: Green, Walker, and Marvets.

Varner sided with the minority on those votes.

Yet he also was targeted in an ad campaign called “Boot The Board,” which urged voters to cast out all the incumbents. Online at boottheboard.com, it asked: “How many times have you complained about or been embarrassed by the school board?”

With early voting having begun July 9, the controversy and the election have nearly coincided.

Candidates qualified for the board the week after its May 21 vote. A month later came the vote on Phillips’ pay. The board’s voting to approve the same personnel recommendations it earlier had rejected was just five days before advance voting began.

Informed of his likely win Tuesday night, Varner said he and his board colleagues face tough decisions in the months to come.

The board has to hire a new superintendent to replace Andrews, a crucial decision likely to have an impact for decades to come, he said.

The board also will have to prioritize its sales tax projects, because tax revenues are not meeting expectations, he said.

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