The last day of qualifying brought one more political newcomer to the Muscogee County School Board races, but the focus of the two-month campaign is expected to be the same overall theme as the two previous election cycles:
What is the school board’s proper role in public education?
The answers range from staunch support of the administration on one side to watchdog suspicion on the other. And the push-pull difference between blind loyalty and micromanaging is at various points in the middle.
Now, the two-month campaign begins for these 12 candidates vying for one of five seats up for election on the nine-member board this year:
▪ At-large: Incumbent Kia Chambers, a broker for Prestige Property Brokers, and Tony McCool, a supply chain manager for NCR Corporation.
Qualifying ran from 9 a.m. Monday until noon Friday. The deadline to register to vote in the state primary and local nonpartisan elections is April 24. Advance in-person voting will be April 30 through May 18 in the City Services Center, 3111 Citizens Way. May 22 will be Election Day for those races.
The District 8 race between Myers and Schley best exemplifies the different views of the school board’s role.
“It’s an exquisite example of the differences,” said former board member Fife Whiteside, a bankruptcy lawyer who represented District 5 during the first 15 years (1993-2008) the board has been an elected governing body instead of grand-jury appointed. “It’s a greater issue because Frank is running, and that race in particular shows the conflict.”
Myers, the board’s most vocal critic of the administration, had decided in January along with District 2 representative John Thomas, an IRS agent, to not seek re-election. But, when it looked like nobody would run against Schley, he changed his mind and qualified Thursday.
As he did in the past two school board elections, Myers is expected to influence the other races as well, Whiteside said, so the District 8 race “takes on greater weight beyond the mathematics.”
Doing the math, two of the four board members who aren’t up for re-election this year, Pat Hugley Green of District 1 and Cathy Williams of District 7, almost always vote for Superintendent David Lewis’ recommendations, while Laurie McRae of District 5 mostly does and Vanessa Jackson of District 3 sometimes does.
So with Thomas leaving the board after this year, the Myers camp is looking for reinforcements, and the establishment hopes Schley adds more accord on the board and support for the superintendent. Here’s a look at how the candidates in the other races are seen through this lens:
In the at-large race, Chambers has been a swing vote on the board. Thomas planned the January coup that ousted Green from the chairwoman’s seat to elevate Chambers from vice chairwoman and make Cantrell vice chairman. McCool, however, looks to be more of the anti-establishment candidate Myers likes.
Myers said on his Facebook page, “Tony is an impressive person who would bring about the change we need on the Muscogee County School Board.”
Asked whether Myers or Thomas recruited him, McCool told the Ledger-Enquirer in a phone interview, “I wasn’t recruited by anybody. ... Sure, they encouraged me, but they were just one voice.”
In District 2, Steed, whose company has a contract worth an estimated $165,000 with MCSD, is expected to be loyal to the administration. Edmondson, who couldn’t raise enough money to turn the historic but dilapidated former Bibb Elementary School into an “iSTEAM center” for science and arts education, is expected to be an independent, and McCraine is expected to be anti-establishment.
In a phone interview with the Ledger-Enquirer, McCraine said she would “probably vote like John Thomas.”
McCraine is the last candidate to qualify and the only one on Friday. As a mother of three children at Blanchard Elementary School, including two in special education, McCraine said she started to consider being a a candidate after the board, by a one-vote margin May 15, rejected Lewis’ controversial recommendation to hire Camelot Education, a private, for-profit company based in Austin, Texas, to run three alternative education programs for $6.4 million annually, serving students with severe emotional or behavioral problems, severe discipline code violations and those who are over-age and under-credited.
“We do not need to bring in Camelot or something like Camelot,” McCraine said.
In a follow-up email, McCraine added, “I believe we are well overdue for a reform on the school board and my platform is to advocate for special education, teachers and success for all students.”
In District 4, Buckner usually favors the superintendent’s recommendations. She has challenged Myers during board discussions but also has asked the administration tough questions.
Tucker clearly sees herself as a reformer.
“Everyone deserves a fair chance,” she says in her campaign literature. “Unfortunately, our school system has not adequately provided that across the board for all students and teachers.”
In District 6, Cantrell has been a swing vote, sometimes siding with the administration, something joining Myers in opposition.
After working for 32 years in MCSD, retiring as the chief student services officer in 2010, Obleton seems to have the background to lean toward supporting the administration, but he insists he would be an independent vote.
“I’m not blindly trusting anything,” Obleton told the Ledger-Enquirer in a phone interview. “I’m not going to delve into all the minutiae, but I will do my homework and make my vote based on that homework and what’s good for my constituents and the students in general. I don’t see myself getting on anybody’s bandwagon.”
Roth also appears to be a free agent.
“I fall under the what’s-the-best-thing to do camp, whatever provides the best learning environment for kids,” Roth told the Ledger-Enquirer in a phone interview.
He hasn’t been in contact with any board member about his campaign, Roth said, but he asserted the disagreements between Myers and the administration are “healthy” for the school district.
Roth referred to the famous quote from Gen. George Patton when he said, “If everybody is thinking alike, then nobody is thinking. I spent 26 years active duty, and I always encouraged my subordinates to disagree because no one has all the answers. You truly get the best resolution when everybody offers their insight.”